Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Affordable Care Act: A Boon for Musicians - Essay

Below is a lightly edited version of the Welcome Message I posted on the CBA website yesterday. Responses to it generated more heat than light. Nevertheless, I believe that the ACA can and does benefit thousands of musicians across many genres whose earnings are insufficient to supply them with the sort of medical care they need.

During the past few years we've all watched too many beloved musicians pass from the music scene. Their illnesses and subsequent loss has cost many of us in grief, especially when friends die too soon, struck down by illness that could have been prevented or cured. Musicians often live in fear and denial, recognizing that they may have health issues and fearing that a trip to the doctor will entail tests, treatment, and medicines beyond their means. When warning signs are present, they avoid seeking medical help, accepting the consequences or denying the existence of the symptoms for fear of the economic costs. They eventually become ill and the generous bluegrass community rallies around them with love and support while opening up their hearts and pocketbooks to help meet medical expenses, often incurred too late. Sadly, the amount of money raised hardly provides sufficient funds to make a significant dent in the large debt often incurred during a serious illness.

Meanwhile, medical expenses have been the largest cause of bankruptcy in America. Dan Mangan of CNBC reported in 2013, “Bankruptcies resulting from unpaid medical bills will affect nearly 2 million people this year—making health care the No. 1 cause of such filings, and outpacing bankruptcies due to credit-card bills or unpaid mortgages, according to new data ….Even outside of bankruptcy, about 56 million adults—more than 20 percent of the population between the ages of 19 and 64—will still struggle with health-care-related bills this year.”

A recent article in the Houston Post had this to say, “Musicians and their families often fall through the coverage gap. They're typically young and consequently believe themselves invincible, and are expected to make significant sacrifices for their art. If you want to be a rock star, you'd better be ready to bleed for it. What other occupation has web sites like, where groups can beg for lodging from obliging fans, or expects to meet its serious medical-care expenses through benefit-concert proceeds, in contrast to the conventional options offered to teachers and plumbers? “ An article in Billboard had this to say, “Unfortunately, artists aren’t well-informed about the nuts and bolts of Obamacare. The FMC/AHIRC survey found that 55% of artists “don’t understand it at all” or are “unsure” how the law would affect them. That number jibes with a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found 47% of Americans have enough information on health-care reform to understand how it will affect them and their families.”

In May, an article in the LA Times said, “The federal law that went into full effect this year made it easier for people to buy health insurance on their own because coverage is guaranteed regardless of preexisting health conditions, and subsidies are available to make premiums more affordable. That creates a new range of options for people who are self-employed or who may have held on to a job they didn't like just for the benefits, said Laura Baker, a senior health and benefits consultant for consulting firm Mercer in Los Angeles.”

In December, OPB (Oregon Public Radio) printed a story on its web site detailing the problems of artists needing health care and suggesting that Oregon's state exchange as well as local insurance brokers who care about the needs of people in the arts community could provide real help for such people. One of the confounding problems mentioned in several places is that many artists are young and relatively healthy. They don't see themselves as needing health care, so they ignore or reject the possible alternatives.
The Southern Arizona Artists and Musicians Healthcare Alliance (S.A.A.M.H.A.) holds regular weekly meetings to help musicians and other artists navigate the questions and problems attached to the Affordable Care Act as it applies to them. They commented, “According to a recent survey, US-based artists — dancers, musicians, visual artists, theatre actors, film and media artists — are less likely to have health insurance than the general public. Like many other Americans, they are also unsure about the components of Affordable Care Act, and seek advice about how to navigate this new health care landscape.” The above suggests that even in states that have resisted the ACA, there are forces at work to help musicians find and get effective health care.

Help is Available: The web site Artists and the Affordable Care Act is an extremely useful site for anyone seeking to negotiate the maze of health health care regulations and the postures taken by various states as they seek to cooperate or resist based on both their politics and their populations. The interactive map provided by the Kaiser Foundation is particularly helpful, detailing at the click of a state the response of each state in the country. It's also quite complicated, as it explains in detail the progress of each state toward establishing (or not) state exchanges and meeting the requirements of the law. There are, however, lots of other resources available to assist people seeking help in their states.

IBMA, through one of its Affiliated Partners Sound Healthcare has partnered with this company to help provide advice and services to the music industry. “Our primary goal is to provide members access to affordable health insurance and health care advocacy custom-designed to meet the needs of our bluegrass community. We provide customized programs of protection designed to perfectly balance your budget with your needs. Sound Healthcare offers a line-up of best-in-class insurance products, information and resources, and the assurance that we will always exceed the expectations of those we serve.A form is provided to request further information. I'm sorry to say I reached out to this company for further information, but received no reply. Further information about Sound Healthcare can be found on their web site, here.

The Actors Fund has also put together a very informative web site for all entertainers. Much of it is in the form of talks and charts, which might be easier for some people to navigate. Much of the information is presented as text with a voice over making it much easier to use. The site contains an ACA Basics Tutorial as well as many other resources that should prove helpful to those confused by both the programs available and the overheated rhetoric from both sides of the issue. There are thirty sections, each with a voice over with many accompanied by helpful charts to help reduce anxiety and confusion about ACA choices and responsibilities.

While enrollment for health care under the Affordable Care Act is currently closed until November 15, 2014 for enrollment on January 1, 2015, now is the time to begin preparing to provide for yourself and your family through the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. It's also a good time, if you live in a state which hasn't set up its own exchanges or expanded medicare to write your congressman or state representative urging them to vote for such action. Political ideology is not a good reason to be deprived of rights that have been passed by Congress, signed by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court. While the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, we are now seeing millions of people enrolling and the cost curve of medical care beginning to bend downwards. You're entitled to receive these benefits, too.