by Policy Intern Cody Duncan
PBS Newshour recently produced an online feature on the difficulties faced by Austin-area musicians seeking healthcare, which highlighted the admirable efforts of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAMM), a Texas organization giving access to healthcare for Austin’s large community of working musicians.
With the help of partners Seton Health Care Network and St. David’s Hospital, The SIMS Foundation (Services Invested in Musician Support) launched HAAM in 2005. The groups recognized and sought to address a problem which, while not unique, is prevalent among working musicians – difficulty in accessing healthcare services. HAAM is not an insurance company, but connects uninsured musicians directly with healthcare providers offering reduced rates for services. To qualify, the musician must make less than 250% of the Federal Poverty Level. Payments are kept to a practical minimum, and extra costs are covered through a combination of fundraising and grants.
Texas already has the highest rate of uninsured residents of any state in the nation, but the kind of work that the HAAM does is especially important because musicians are particularly vulnerable to both the financial and structural challenges presented by our current healthcare system for a number of reasons:
Musicians may not have steady employers to provide health insurance. Of the Americans who have health insurance, those who rely on a health insurance plan chosen and contributed to by their employer make up the largest group by far. However, the vast majority of working musicians are independent contractors, without a steady employer. The lack of employer-provided options can be a barrier, particularly for younger and financially-struggling musicians.
Musicians often have difficulty engaging with institutions. Musicians are diverse in terms of socioeconomic status, lifestyle, and working conditions. While some musicians (particularly studio musicians, composers, and members of orchestras) may spend most of their time in a single location, many must travel throughout the year to earn an income. Due to an erratic travelling schedules, many musicians find it difficult to engage with institutions that require their physical presence, or extended or repeat visits to the offices of a doctor or insurance agent.
Youth and low income pushes musicians to resist buying health insurance. Many musicians, facing financial difficulty, simply choose to go without health insurance and hope for the best. However, when health emergencies strike, musicians who must travel and perform regularly to earn an income find themselves facing sizeable medical expenses while simultaneously lacking their usual source of income. Our 2010 survey suggests that musicians are twice as likelyas the general public to be uninsured, which indicates a need for special efforts to address the problem in the music community.
As implementation of the Affordable Care Act approaches, it is vital that policymakers have access to rich and accurate information regarding healthcare services in the United States. The same factors that lead to musicians lacking health coverage also make it particularly challenging to collect important and meaningful data on how musicians, of all varieties, interact with the healthcare system.
That’s why FMC has partnered with Fractured Atlas and the Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center (AHIRC) to launch the Artists and Health Insurance Survey in an effort to attain the kind of information needed to create strong policy. We hope this survey will spark an informed discussion of what is required to provide access to healthcare to Americans in the arts and entertainment industries. For information regarding our research efforts, visit our Artists and Health Insurance Survey page, and please take a few minutes to fill out our survey so that we may better serve the music community, and while you are at it, spread the word to your fellow artists of all disciplines!
This work is just our latest in an ongoing effort to gauge the ability of musicians to access healthcare and provide information catered to musicians’ special needs. For other information, check out our health insurance resources page, or see our past campaigns.
Even after the Affordable Care Act is implemented, the kind of subsidized acess to providers that HAAM provides will still be needed, in part because Texas has chosen not to participate in the expansion of Medicaid. But the success of this program suggests that replicating this model may be an important step toward a future where every musician can access the health care they need.