What Does Healthcare Reform Mean to Musicians: Part I – Our Story

We all need doctors and hospitals. We also need pharmaceutical companies to develop medicines to combat illness.  The biggest question is: How do we pay for healthcare so we can receive treatment without breaking the bank?   Some people believe we are entitled to healthcare, others believe the opposite.  It is a controversial topic causing a lot of national turmoil.

About a week ago, I asked myself a simple question: How would healthcare reform impact musicians?

I don’t have all the answers, nor do I have all the information.  However, I am in the process of researching how poor healthcare has impacted musicians and how reform could impact musicians nationwide.   As a result, I have decided to start a series about musicians, healthcare, the current debate, and what this could mean for all of us.  The logical place to start is with my own story, which includes Viola, since she is my other half.

First off, I don’t work in music at the moment and there is a good reason why.  We needed a steady flow of income and quality healthcare to help us get through some medical ailments.  Our woes with health insurance started when I was working for a non-profit institution, and I had an HMO.  Viola suffered a common music injury.  Because of the HMO, she couldn’t see the right doctor which aggravated the injury and the situation.  Our options were limited to certain doctors who required a referral.  The doctors made piss-poor decisions and didn’t have the expertise to treat the ailment.  We were stuck, frustrated, and unable to afford PPO insurance.   I had a low salary and couldn’t afford the $600+ premium for the both of us.

I eventually switched jobs and could finally afford PPO insurance.  Now that Viola and I are able to choose any doctor we need, it has made a tremendous difference.  It costs very little because of the size of the organization I work for.   It boils down to the law of averages.  A large insurance pool skewed with a younger age group allows for quality healthcare at a lower price.

Here is the thing.  If I wanted to return to the music world tomorrow, it would be nearly impossible to keep the quality of healthcare I currently have.

In the process of doing research I stumbled onto a blog post on The Artists House.  Here is a snippet of the transcript from the video I watched, which explains the crux for a majority of musicians across the US:

The life of a professional musician is a life of self-employment. Even if you’re a member of a band and the band is a hugely successful band, ninety-nine percent of bands break up eventually and, you know, you’re responsible for your own insurance, your own healthcare, paying your own taxes.

It’s a pattern I see over and over in the community of musicians that people don’t – they don’t seem to have this sense that they’re actually self-employed and they’re responsible – they are responsible to maintain their own business as an entity. To be self-employed means you’re responsible for your own healthcare, your own insurance, your own – paying your own taxes.

There are exceptions to the above such as musicians that are part of a large entity like an orchestra, or those who teach for a music school.  However, the number of musicians working for an orchestra is miniscule considering the number of people that declare themselves musicians (more about this subject in future posts).

In the coming days and weeks, I intend to explore this issue and what it means.  I am reaching out to associations and music unions to try and garner as much information as possible in order to provide a balanced perspective.

Stay tuned, more to come very soon…

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