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How Will Obamacare Affect Musicians?

The Affordable Care Act could offer a path to health care for struggling artists.

How Will Obamacare Affect Musicians?
Jeff Myers

Just two days after she received her brand-new Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas insurance card guaranteeing her coverage, Alexis Kidd was in the Intensive Care Unit at Memorial Hermann Northwest. Sitting with her at every possible moment was her husband, Christian, a.k.a. Christian Arnheiter, a.k.a. Christian Oppression, but mostly just a.k.a. Christian of The Hates. This was merely the latest in a series of medical emergencies that had plagued the couple over the past five years, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act's implementation at the beginning of 2014, it was the first in a long time that could be tackled with full protection.

Christian: "I was so glad when the ACA was introduced."

"If I'd had those heart palpitations without my insurance card, I would not have gone to the hospital, and the result would have probably been much worse," says Alexis, whose history with cancer had prevented her from easily finding coverage. But the ACA changed that. Her short stay in the hospital while doctors adjusted her blood-pressure medication was covered, an unheard-of luxury for her just a month earlier.

Christian himself has enjoyed full medical coverage his entire adult working life. For more than two decades, his assortment of garishly colored Mohawks accessorized his City of Houston worker's uniform, a clash of respectability and punk-rock defiance that landed his picture in a Houston Post story when questions arose about the appropriateness of such a hairstyle for a representative of the city. The matter was tabled, and Christian would reap the benefits as a city employee for his work during the day and as a punk-rock icon on the stages and radio waves of the same city at night.

Musician Lee Alexander opted for teaching public school, in part because of its health insurance benefits.
Jeff Myers
Musician Lee Alexander opted for teaching public school, in part because of its health insurance benefits.
Sean Ozz of The Abyss and his son Zain, who has recovered full use of his arm since an accident.
Jeff Myers
Sean Ozz of The Abyss and his son Zain, who has recovered full use of his arm since an accident.

But the people whom Christian has cared about and ultimately supported have not been so lucky.

Musicians and their families often fall through the coverage gap. They're typically young and consequently believe themselves invincible, and are expected to make significant sacrifices for their art. If you want to be a rock star, you'd better be ready to bleed for it. What other occupation has web sites like BetterThanTheVan.com, where groups can beg for lodging from obliging fans, or expects to meet its serious medical-care expenses through benefit-concert proceeds, in contrast to the conventional options offered to teachers and plumbers?

A typical Houston musician may receive health insurance through his or her day job (if there is one) or an insured spouse's provider. Those under age 27 may continue on their parents' insurance, assuming their parents have coverage and are willing. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' outreach program, MusiCares, aims to help artists with financial needs brought on by medical and mental-health concerns, but it's hardly a widely available safety net. If you're fortunate enough to live and work in Austin, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians is open to the more than 9,000 musicians residing in the capital, but not the thousands more beyond Austin's city limits.

In the Houston area alone, Lee Alexander curtailed a promising singer-songwriter career so he could retain the health-care benefits that come with his teaching job. Jazz vocalist and bandleader Tianna Hall says she's scared about being able to afford the expensive therapy for her young autistic son unless certain state laws change, while many musicians in her band are effectively left to fend for themselves. And it took an elaborate benefit concert to foot the five-figure bill when veteran alternative-rocker Sean Ozz's young son broke his arm.

As the initial debate over the Affordable Care Act began in 2011, the Kidds watched the rhetoric avidly. Even after the law's passage, it would be years before Alexis would be able to take advantage of the clause that prevented insurance companies from denying applicants based on pre-existing conditions like hers.

In the meantime, Christian and Alexis got married through an organization called Wish Upon a Wedding, which provides small weddings to people facing life-threatening illness; accepted a generous handout from Dream Rooms Furniture after they were featured in a Facebook "likes" campaign that netted them the cost of a procedure; and otherwise existed in a fearful holding pattern.

"Every doctor we talked to about Alexis's history during our hospital stay asked us when we were going back to the oncologist," says Christian. "It was nice to be able to tell them it was the next thing on the list after we got out of the hospital.

"After Alexis was diagnosed with mesothelioma, she lost her job and health," he continues. "I tried applying for her to be on my health care, and she was denied because of her pre-existing condition. I was so glad when the Affordable Care Act was introduced so that people no longer had to be denied coverage."
_____________________

Though the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land, in Texas its implementation — and by definition its positive impact — has been more limited than in many other states because Texas turned down Medicaid expansion. This put many low-income people in the position of making too much money to qualify for a federal subsidy while still being well above Texas's Medicaid limit.

The ACA-offered expansion of Medicaid would have provided coverage to anyone making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or around $15,000 for a single person or $30,000 for a family of four. The federal government pays this expansion in full starting this year, but by 2017 each participating state will pick up 10 percent of the tab.

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10 comments
klarter
klarter

Obamacare is an alternative to universal healthcare. Alternatives goods and services are being created everyday. http://ow.ly/uDlpd

clbryan05
clbryan05

I read the article and it was well written but it did not by any means change my views on Ocare.  I will continue to believe that health care reform needed to come by way of the insurance and pharmacutical companies not by way of the citizens.  People should not be forced to purchase health insurance, which Ocare does, especially coverage and policies that govt officials are exempt from.  If Ocare is so wonderful then by all means it should be just as wonderful for the elected officials.  Doctors and hospital are still regulated by the insurance companies and coverage does not guarantee care.  Death panels exists as well. The expense of rate increases in many employer funded and private funded polices is done in order for the insurance companies to meet the demands of the requirements of Ocare. Many people lost their full time jobs because employers could not afford the rate increases of the plans.  Many people lost plans and their doctors so that other could receive health care at no cost or at subsidized costs.  The insurance companies still control the health care of the citizens which is wrong.  Prior to Ocare people had plans based on their needs they weren’t require to pay in the coverage package things that other people need.  There was already govt and state insurance in place - medicare and medicaid - revisions needed to be made from those since taxpayers already fund those. So in addition to many tax payers who fall in the gap of not being able to afford coverage even through the market place and lost coverage through their employers are still paying taxes for the govt and state insurance and will be paying a penalty tax for not being covered.  I am always glad when someone can get the health care they need and as a parent of an autistic child myself, I know the cost of therapies and therapies don’t “guarantee” success, but they do help provide progress.  If you choose a career that can not provide you with the income to support yourself or your family including health care, then by all means, you may have to supplement that income.   Ocare is still a joke, no American Citizen should be forced to purchase health insurance and since citizens already pay taxes towards govt and state funded insurance - this is where the reform needed to come in.  Ocare is a platform for conversion to socialized medicine.  As a self-employed person I can’t afford covered and under the market place it is a subsidized amount that is still unaffordable BUT REQUIRED BY LAW - and any income tax return I would get will be seized to reimburse the payment of the subsidies and I get thsi at the cost of other people - that’s just not right - I’ve seen how all these musicians can receive coverage through the market place but there was nothing in the story about the cost to non muscians, the loss of policies, the loss of full time jobs, the fact that the officials who developed and require the coverage are exempt from and will be exempt from it for life.  There are tragedies in all walks of life, from the wealthy to the poor and the end result of a life is death, with or without health insurance coverage.  Again, it was well written and a very empathic article to some that need coverage, but it by no means justified the wrongs that are happening in order for this to be effective. We as Christians should give and help from our hearts because that is what we are called to do, we should not be forced to do anything through govt regulations.

Jim Rassinier
Jim Rassinier

Musicians? I was a musician for a good 5 years when I was in my 20's...

the.fae
the.fae

Hopefully through articles like this we can leave the hype behind & have more open discussions about how at the end of the day people just want to be able to afford to take care of themselves & those they love... & then make strides towards improving upon the foundation that has been laid by the ACA.  It is far from perfect, but it is a first step in a better direction.  Thank you, Jef, for taking the care to be as balanced as possible about a subject that inspires so much passion on every side.

drusilla.grey
drusilla.grey

Great article. Hopefully this opens the eyes of those who don't understand why the ACA (and hopefully a future single payer system) are necessary.

tianna6
tianna6

Excellent job, Jef. Thank you for being our voice.

JefWithOneF
JefWithOneF topcommenter

@the.fae  I really did try to see all sides, and I'm glad it's being well-received. Thanks for reading!

 
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