This post authored by FMC Policy Fellow Daniel Lieberman.
“The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.” Unless you’ve been living under a Marshall stack, chances are you heard these historic words from Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, reaffirming President Obama’s controversial effort to bring all Americans into the health care system. Alongside the prospect of more affordable health care premiums and insurance companies that are unable to deny coverage to the sick, we at FMC are pleased the bill was largely upheld. Why? Because among the Americans that stand to benefit from the shiny new law are a group of folks we happen to care an awful lot about — musicians.
Better and more affordable access to health care for musicians is something we have championed for over a decade. In 2002, we released the first major study demonstrating that musicians lacked health coverage at a much higher rate than the rest of the US population. In 2010, while Washington was embroiled in a contentious debate over this issue, we again provided real data demonstrating how acute the problem is and what factors make it difficult for musicians to access coverage. Today, we continue to provide free information to artists about their health care options.
The reasons that so many musicians lack health coverage are largely structural. Musicians routinely work as independent contractors, and supplement their music income with part time employment, which generally leaves employer-provided health coverage out of the equation. Musicians may be able to purchase individual insurance plans privately, but many report that this option is out of their reach financially. While cost is a significant barrier, musicians’ lack of awareness about plans, options and strategies for obtaining coverage is also a factor.
Contrary to what some might argue, advances in technology have not changed the fundamental reality that many working musicians have to spend 180 days a year, if not more, traveling. This can be risky business and the precise time when access to even basic health coverage can be so critical. We know what it looks like when just one injury or one illness can financially devastate not only up-and-coming, but established artists. Frankly, it sucks.
Most artists would prefer to spend their time focusing on their craft rather than thinking about deductibles and copays. However, now that the ACA is out of legal limbo, it is crucial that all artists — especially those without health insurance — know about the “individiual mandate,” which kicks in on January 1, 2014. On that date, musicians, like the rest of Americans, will have to carry some form of insurance or be subject to fines. Our most recent survey results suggest that approximately one third of the musician population is currently uninsured. So as the various components of the Affordable Health Care act are enacted, advocates, artist managers, service organizations and associations will need to educate musicians about the changes in the law, how the new protections affect artists on an individual level, and the private plans or public exchanges that will exist to help them secure coverage. We’ll be doing our part.
Making a living as a musician is hard enough. So, as the Affordable Care Act begins to impact all of our lives, it will be our goal to make sure that it works as intended, particularly for musicians and other creators. Stay tuned.