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How Will Obamacare Affect Musicians?

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

Hall has another problem that the ACA may yet help her with. By her own admission, mental-health problems are endemic among the musicians she comes into contact with. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse are legion. Though she herself has not experienced such problems, she has seen them among members of her group and hopes that ObamaCare will enable them to be both physically and mentally healthier.

The ACA's wording does make some improvements to coverage of mental-health problems; such conditions are listed among the ten essential benefits that plans on the health-care exchange must provide. The act requires that mental-health issues be treated the same as physical ailments and forbids insurance companies to charge higher deductibles or require higher copays. Arbitrary limits on the number of doctors' visits for mental health are likewise proscribed, with providers otherwise ordered not to treat these concerns as a lesser form of care.

"If health care was guaranteed," ventures Hall, "my music career would be astonishingly better because the 32 musicians I employ would be healthier and have access to mental-health care as well."

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.

Despite these changes, Hall is still battling a form of mental-health discrimination thanks to her three-year-old autistic son. The state of Texas mandates that treatment for autism-spectrum disorders be fully covered by insurance until the age of nine. However, Hall's provider gets around the mandate with a "self-funded" policy, meaning that her husband's employer covers the premium and Aetna is listed as merely an administrator.

In the long run, though, the therapy Hall's son requires threatens to bankrupt her unless further changes to the law ensure coverage for the treatment. It comes at an annual cost of more than $63,000, a price tag met only through generous aid from Hall's and her husband's parents. Even that does little to ease her anxiety, she admits.

"We're scared to death," she says. "If we can't handle it financially, how in the world would John Q. Musician with a newly diagnosed autistic toddler?"

In times of trouble, many musicians end up turning to the age-old practice of the benefit concert. One good night featuring the donated talents of Houston's finest performers banding together has helped keep many of them afloat in the wake of medical catastrophes — provided they're popular enough to pull it off, of course.

Sean Ozz of The Abyss is a somewhat unlikely figure who has managed to carve a unique niche in the Houston scene. His ever-rotating band of musicians plays '90s-style goth-rock reminiscent of Bloodflowers-era Cure and has somewhat bafflingly managed a Houston Press Music Award nomination three years in a row. It doesn't hurt that Ozz's impressively spooky baritone voice makes his work extra compelling.

In 2011, he was forced to go the benefit route when his son Zain broke his arm in a rather spectacular manner, twisting the bone into a Z shape. The estimated $40,000 necessary to fix Zain's arm seemed insurmountable given Ozz's day job — he's a tattoo artist in a slow shop — and his modest income from music. But benefit shows must also account for wages lost when performers take time off to heal or care for a sick family member, not just the cost of the treatment itself. And musicians who don't perform don't get paid. The profession affords no vacation days, at least not on this level; that goes double when your day job is tattoo artist.

Ozz has been sick enough to go to the doctor only once in the past 22 years, but even if health insurance were completely free, the idea of a handout still irks him. Nonetheless, he swallowed his pride and threw himself into creating original paintings to auction off at Zain's benefit, held at BFE Rock Club in far north Houston. Bands like Provision donated not only their time but merchandise sales as well, and the money was raised. Now Ozz's son enjoys coverage through the Children's Health Insurance Program, while his father grudgingly maneuvers through HealthCare.gov to comply with the law.

But so far, Ozz says, he's unimpressed with the site's offerings; $160 a month might as well be $1,600 as far as affordability is concerned. Much of his resentment is directed toward the rejected Medicaid expansion, which he would have qualified for.

"I like the idea that everyone should be able to afford emergency health care, but I do not think ACA is the right answer to that," he says, calling it more of a workaround than a means of addressing the actual problem. "It might be a step in a direction. I guess time will tell if it is the right direction."
_____________________

One musician who came to Ozz's aid for Zain's benefit concert was Christian Kidd of the Hates. Like Ozz, Christian and Alexis realize that much work must be done before reform provides decent, affordable coverage to the entire country.

"I think you've got to start somewhere," says Christian. "I think there's people that really don't like the change and think that they can still turn this back and get rid of it."

Christian rarely talks about his experiences with Alexis now that he once again has the coverage that allows his wife to monitor her disease. Much of Houston's punk and metal scene is staunchly libertarian and conservative, right down to the Hates' bass player. But regardless of politics, these musicians understand the godsend that the ACA has been to the Kidds, even if they oppose the idea on a national scale. "It does make them see the human element and not the fearmongering," Alexis says.

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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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