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How Will Obamacare Affect Musicians?

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

Andrews adds that Mucky Duck does provide its employees with health insurance, aided by the SHOP marketplace created by the ACA, and also helps bands navigate the law if needed. Recently, a sound man at the club received coverage under the law and was admitted to urgent care a week after suffering a bad spider bite.

In Texas, the cost of care versus the amount workers are paid is cause for some concern. The average amount spent on medical care per person in the United States was $1,110 in 1980, when the median income of Texans was $9,439. Twenty years later, the cost of care had risen to $8,402 per person, but Texas's median wage only went up to $39,493. The cost per person rose by 756 percent as income went up only 418 percent, a ratio approaching 2:1.

Lee Alexander moved back to Houston to begin forging a career as a singer-songwriter. In 2009, his album Mayhaw Vaudeville was being touted nationally as an underground hit, and he had regular gigs in venues across the city. Record labels were calling him with deals, everything most musicians need to believe a bright future might be in store.

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.

Still looming, though, was the problem of what to do in the event of a medical crisis. Alexander's grandmother had contracted amyo­trophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease), the same disease that has left physicist Stephen Hawking physically disabled, and the possibility of developing such a debilitating condition frightened him. He was forced to choose between public-school teaching or taking the risks associated with pursuing his ambitions. Even though Alexander, whose wife's insurance currently covers him and their daughters, plans on releasing a Frank Zappa-­inspired children's record this year, he doesn't expect to go on tour to promote it.

"My aspirations of ever doing music full-time have disappeared," he says. "I'm in a very different station in life. It would have to take a major musical opportunity or offer to prompt me to quit and be a full-time musician. And free health care certainly wouldn't sway me.

"However, that being said, had the ACA been around back when I was in my 20s [and] an unencumbered artist, yes, I would have formed a band and hit the road," he adds. "No question."

That opportunity may have passed Alexander by, but it's not stopping Blaggards. The local Irish-rock band is a full-time endeavor that regularly tours both the United States and overseas. Bassist/singer Chad Smalley reckons that he works 50-plus hours per week, factoring in travel, rehearsal, gigging and the like. But the band is successful enough that Smalley doesn't require a day job.

Prior to his existing health plan, which he got through the ACA via HealthCare.gov, Smalley was signed up with PCIP (Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan), an early implementation of the ACA that allowed people like him to get decent coverage while waiting for the marketplace to open. Once the famously glitchy site was working, Smalley says, he had an easy time when he accessed it in mid-December 2013. He was able to get in and out easily and was amazed at what he could afford.

"Compared to the PCIP coverage I had before, my monthly premiums were cut by 60 percent, my deductible went from $2,000 to zero and my annual out-of-pocket max went from $6,000 to $500," Smalley says. "My premiums could have been even cheaper if I'd opted for a state-only plan. But since I travel a lot, I opted for national coverage.

"I even got a cheap dental plan on the marketplace...I wasn't expecting that, so that was a nice bonus," he adds. "Having guaranteed care ensures that my career won't get stopped dead in its tracks simply because I get sick or have an accident. That happens to so many people. It's sad and unnecessary."

Smalley would be bankrupt without the Affordable Care Act, he says.
_____________________

Tianna Hall is an employer of sorts, depending on how you define the term. The jazz vocalist works full-time on her craft and fronts a group of 32 musicians at her performances. Her most recent release, a Christmas album with Chris Cortez, is among the best holiday offerings ever to come out of Houston. Like Chad Smalley, she doesn't need a day job to keep her going while her career takes off.

Hall is insured through her husband's employer, so she didn't need the ACA's help. But that's not to say her life is easy when it comes to medical expenses. The couple recently welcomed their second child, a joyous occasion that, even with full coverage, cost them around $8,000.

Looking at the jazz world around her, she is under no illusions that her own established music career would be profitable or secure enough to allow for insurance coverage. Hall says she sees the examples of musicians like Marsha Frazier, a former pianist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra who battled both chronic pain and poorly managed government programs, and "I'm sick to my stomach.

"These artists and creators of music that have given a soul to this country, state and city are left to be treated as second- or third-class citizens," Hall continues. "It's unacceptable. Not to mention our pay scale has been the same since before I was born in 1980, despite the rest of the country's income inflating right along with the current economy. Musicians were barely able to pay for health care then. How in the world can they possibly pay for it now?"

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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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