In the first part of this series, I provided my perspective along with some key considerations all musicians need to accept. The more I research this subject, the more I realize I am not alone. I found story after story with a recurring theme: musicians either consider healthcare as a luxury because the high costs, or are underinsured for the same reason. In fact, the Future Of Music Coalition conducted a study in 2002. Of the 2700 respondents, 44 percent did not have insurance.
Some of the other key findings include:
- Of the 1368 respondents who DO have insurance, 25 percent of those are self-insured
- Of the respondents who DON’T have insurance, 76 percent said it was because health insurance was too expensive
- Respondents who spent more than 50% of their time as a working musician were less likely to have insurance
Let’s think about this for a moment. This study was taken over 8 years ago. Since then, the cost of healthcare has dramatically increased. I presume the percentage of uninsured musicians has increased if not skyrocketed because of the changing dymanics in healthcare. I haven’t yet found recent stats, but it all adds up based on my evaluation of information and current economic times: Largest economic recession since 1930’s + Increasing healthcare costs = More uninsured musicians.
In addition to the Future of Music Coalition study, Rock & Rap Confidential lists information about another study completed by Rock A Mole Productions which concluded that 96% of all musicians have had trouble obtaining health care and 87% of musicians have played a benefit for another musician in a time of health crisis. Although I haven’t been able to confirm this information, perhaps someone else is aware of this study and can validate the findings in the study. If this study is factual and unbiased, then my assumptions regarding healthcare are true.
As I continue to delve into this subject, I found several heartbreaking stories illustrating how the current healthcare problems are affecting musicians. There are three reoccurring themes:
- Musicians who were insured, but coverage wasn’t good enough
- Musical entities are starting to cut coverage to reduce operational costs
- Musicians banding together to raise money because of an ill colleague who didn’t have insurance
One story is about David J. Hahn who is a contributor at MusicWages.com. Hahn was diagnosed with cancer. As a result of the medical treatment necessary to beat the disease, it cost him over $300,000. Hahn had a catastrophic health insurance policy through Blue Cross/Blue Shield which covered his chemotherapy treatments. However, it did not cover the 7 doctors involved in his diagnosis, the 31-minute surgery, drugs considered “optional” to the treatment, or any exploratory or preventative care following the end of chemotherapy. You can read the full story here.
Entities Unable to Provide Healthcare to Musicians
Tough economic times have hit the arts hard. Income has decreased, and employees of arts entities are being asked to deal with less. Orchestras have been hit hard by tough economic times. As a result, health insurance coverage is one of the first benefits to be reduced or cut completely to maintain operational budgets. In addition, orchestra members and administrative staff are being asked to take wage cuts.
The Oregon Symphony renegotiated their contract to reduce their health insurance coverage. The New Mexico Symphony Orchestra completely cut health insurance benefits after the expiration of their contract.
Bruce Ridge, a member of the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) and chairman of the AFM’s International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor’s hearing on The Economic and Employment Impact of the Arts and Music Industry in March of this year. In his testimony, Ridge mentioned how the rising cost of healthcare is a growing threat to orchestras and musicians nationwide. You can view Ridge’s complete testimony here.
Musical Brotherhoods Band Together For Others
Musicians are part of an informal fraternity. Musicians lean on each other onstage as much as they do off. I came across several stories about musicians coming together to support another brother or sister.
North Carolina Public Radio shared a story about Britten “Snooze” Zell who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. As a result of not having insurance, a group of musicians came together came together to help raise money for his medical bills. The audio for the full story is available on the NCPR website.
There is also the story of Bill Lodgson who has to undergo surgery because of his large intestine opening up into his bladder, then turning septic. As result, musicians are coming together to help raise money for the surgery.
Earlier this year, Jazz Times shared the tragic story of Dennis Irwin. On Oct. 6, 2009, John Scofield and Joe Lovano will lead an all-star collection of jazz artists in a benefit concert to remember their late friend and colleague, bassist Dennis Irwin, and to raise money for the Jazz Foundation of America’s Jazz Musicians’ Emergency Fund. The Foundation is designed to help jazz musicians with healthcare costs.
In statement about the concert, Joe Lovano had this to say:
We hope to raise a significant amount of money to support the programs that help so many musicians with so few alternatives. Playing Our Parts’ is a beautiful celebration of life within the jazz community of New York, to raise funds in support of the countless musicians who dedicate their lives [to] bringing us this joyous music.
The healthcare reality for musicians is brutal. My hope is that musicians across the country will recognize the need to band together and tell their stories. Now is the time to come together and ask Congress to makes the changes necessary so we can all take care of ourselves. We should all be allowed to pursue our dream and be able to live a prosperous life so we can all share our passion with our fans.
This story is far from over…more to come very soon.