19 August 2009

American Artists and Health Care

Contagious

If you live in the U.S. it's gotten kind of hard to ignore the ruckus about health care that's taking place, complete with gun-toting Americans on television going on about "socialism," or even worse, "Hitler" and "Nazis." I try to keep my blog posts art related, so I've studiously stayed out of the fray, but today I remembered: artists need health care!

This morning I collected a few nuggets of information about health care and artists (all types included: musicians, performing artists, visual artists, writers, etc.) and posted my findings to Twitter. Thought I'd collect the info here as well.

A Few Facts & Observations About American Artists and Health Care


1. Employment-based health care, as we have in the U.S., fails to serve artists, who are 3.5 times more likely than the general population to be self-employed or employed part time (i.e. the famous "day job").

2. An estimated 40% of artists lack health insurance. Given that artists typically earn $6,000 less annually than other "professional" workers, artists often can't afford individual premiums.

3. A Future of Music Coalition report finds that artists are considered by insurance companies to be a "risky" population. I can only speculate what that's all about, but my best guess is that it's an anti-arts bias based on a perception best stated by the new NEA chairman Rocco Landesman in a recent NY Times article: "The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay."

Added later: Just got some good points from a twitter friend about artist risk factors like working with chemicals, repetitive stress injuries, etc. More reasons that artists need health insurance. (My earlier speculation now looks a little paranoid, but there you have it.)

The good news is, artists know how to get together and fight back. A Twitter acquaintance of mine, artist Sky Pape (see her moving series of drawings called "Keening" about the illness and death of her sister), wrote a blog post that vividly reminded me of the 1980s when AIDS was decimating the arts community. Back then, individual artists as well as groups like Act Up fought the Reagan administration to get some help and funding.

Artists, let's use our power to get the attention back on making health care available to everyone. Artists, let's use our creativity to touch hearts and make powerful statements that can drown out the memes of fear and prejudice that are dominating the debate. Artists, let's get ourselves some good old all-American health insurance!

And please, if you're an artist, leave me a comment about where your coverage, if any, comes from.

13 comments:

Sky Pape said...

I'm grateful you felt moved to write this post, Annie. I'm lucky to have health insurance, a benefit I was able to keep after working for over 13 years doing research at NY-Presbyterian Medical Center. Though vested for this benefit, I now must pay "COBRA" rates which are insanely high. Then, there are the co-pays, out of pocket expenses, etc. Still, I'm glad to have it, and will continue to keep the coverage.

Recent studies show that severely calorie-restricted diets increase longevity, so if I have to starve to pay my health insurance premiums, at least I may live longer by doing so!

Phare-Camp said...

I'm lucky to have a spouse who works for a medical manufacturer. The health care benefits are better than most employers provide. He gets a budget which allows for covering me in his plan. If it weren't for that, being a self employed artist, I would be without medical coverage and would have to choose between meds or whole food...

Terry Peart said...

Well said, Annie. I am a part-time amateur artist working a full-time good-paying job with excellent benefits. My furnituremaker husband enjoys the benefits my employment provides him also. I'm sure he would have no health benefits if he was single and self-employed.

Magic Cochin said...

The fracas over the pond is getting so heated it's hitting the headlines here too. Not least because the NHS is being slagged off left right and centre. Now, I know pretty much everyone in the UK could tell you a negative NHS story and the cost of running the lumbering juggernaut is a constant nightmare BUT we are so very very lucky to have it.

The treatment offered to the patients is top class - we just have to fathom out how to keep on paying for it (as well as propping up the banks and paying for the armed forces!)

Celia

Sue said...

I too, live over the pond and have good reason to be grateful to our cumbersome NHS. I'm self-employed, my hubby and I don't earn enough to even buy a pension let alone pay a health insurance, but at least we know that when we've felt ill, our healthcare is covered.
Over here, if you want to pay for slightly better hospital facilities etc, you can pay into a private scheme, called BUPA. You may or may not get seen faster, but the BUPA doctors and surgeons are the same ones who work for the NHS also.

Leslie Moore said...

I pay through the teeth for a $5,000 deductible and work hard to stay healthy.

Annie B said...

Thanks for these comments. It's interesting to hear how we all manage.

My story: Lynn and I were both self-employed for the first 12 years or so of our relationship, so we bought our own coverage. Joined various professional organizations that allowed us to get group rates. Even so, we paid ever-increasing monthly fees, topping out at over $800/month until finally Lynn got a job at a local university a couple of years ago. We feel like we died and went to heaven now that we don't have to pay out of pocket!

To my British friends, I envy you your NHS. That's what makes the most sense to me. Too bad you're a bunch of socialists :)

alison said...

I wish I had insurance. I am a self-employed artist working at four different jobs. I make art, teach workshops, clean house, and do custom sewing. All of those together keep body and soul happy, but do not pay enough to afford insurance, which if I did try and get, would cost more than my monthly income. I am not eligible for public assistance. If you aren't lucky, or married to someone with insurance, there aren't many options. After the election, I was hopeful that there would be some kind of change, and that there would be affordable health-care options for folks like me, but now I wonder...

Kit said...

I am lucky to have a spouse who is covered. I work primarily on my art full time, but used to work in an unrelated field and had access to coverage there as well. My self-employed sister has never had health insurance, nor has my one of my best friends, a potter (due to low incomes) Lucky for them they have been healthy and accident free. I'd love to see single payer some day but it sure feels like a long shot at this point. We certainly need a public option at the minimum.

moreidlethoughts said...

Yes, a thorny issue, isn't it? Any time I've had to fly via USA I've taken out extra insurance in case "something happened."
Here in Australia, we have a public health system like the UK's (underfunded and constantly being criticised!), but for those of us without private cover, it's a lifesaver.Literally, in many cases.
Perhaps I'm a cynic, but I've noticed a recent huge increase in advertising for Funeral Insurance!

And happy Anniversary! Go for gold!

Sharri said...

Annie, I just ran across this post. I am lucky to have been covered by a spouses employment, too. My outside employment has been very spotty at best, so it has been a blessing that he has stayed put. However, now that we are on Medicare, it is even better. No co-pays, no deductibles and a very doable premium. Fortunately, we have prescription coverage through another plan - not the abomination the Bushies got through congress.
Between Medicare, the VA and Medicaid, all govt. run, the US services more people than Canada and any W. European country - and yet the Right continues to malign govt. run health care. It is just too bizarre.

Marcy said...

I am fortunate to work for a grocery store of all places (Trader Joe's) that not only employs local artists to create signage and work on visual merchandising within the store, but offers those artists a really amazing benefits package as well. I can work as little as 20 hours per week and still keep full benefits, which allows me the flexibility to pursue my own work at the pace I desire.

Thanks Annie for bringing up the health care debate through the lens of artists and other self-employed individuals. I grew up in a self-employed family and watched my parents pay huge premiums and scrape together money for dentist and optometrist visits. I hope we can end that kind of struggle soon!

Annie B said...

It's great to hear all your stories. We self-employed artists who can be covered on the policies of our spouses are lucky. Now that Congress is back in session we'll see what happens. I don't feel optimistic right now...