Healthcare 101: Know Your Resources

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Beyond the Health Insurance Marketplace, know your options when it comes to obtaining (and paying for) medical care.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, insurance, tax, legal or accounting advice. Choosing a healthcare provider, a fitness regime, or insurance plan is a personal choice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting or healthcare advisors before engaging in any transaction, making any decisions or filing any tax return.

So, you’re a musician. You could’ve been a doctor or an architect or anything else that your parents might have preferred, but you followed your muse and took the road less neatly paved. But life as an artist can be fraught with certain questions that many of your desk-jockey peers don’t necessarily ask themselves. For instance, “If I’m injured by a pyrotechnics malfunction at my next gig, how will I pay my doctor bills?”

No judgment if you’re gainfully employed by an entity that sponsors your health insurance. This is a sweet deal, especially if you have a family. But to the legion of maverick creatives left to their own health-coverage devices, here are a few tips.

Enroll during open enrollment

If you don’t have health insurance on lock for 2019, you can purchase it through the Health Insurance Marketplace. (This is applicable for anyone, not just artists.) Sounds easy, but you do need to be calendar-aware (and disciplined) to get yourself squared away. There’s a finite window of time when you can get enrolled, or you’ll face tax penalties, not to mention financial ruin in the event of catastrophic injury. Open Enrollment is from Thursday November 1 through Saturday December 15. The insurance finder at Healthcare.gov can help guide you to the plan you need.

Take a HINT

The Future of Music Coalition lobbies on behalf of artists in a number of ways, but their efforts to demystify the health-care industry for musicians are especially remarkable. Since 2005 they have operated the Health Insurance Navigation Tool (HINT), which provides free support and advice via 30-minute phone consultations to any musician who asks. To schedule an appointment, fill out the form here. Note: The purpose of these calls is to answer your questions, not to sell you insurance.

Consider joining a union

The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) was founded in 1896 and operates on behalf of “any musician who receives pay for their musical services.” Dues-paying members can shop for insurance via the AFM site and take advantage of a number of services beyond the scope of physical and mental wellness. Many local chapters have funds dedicated to specific needs, such as emergency relief or disabled musicians. You can apply for membership via the AFM website.

There’s also SAG-AFTRA, the organization that brings together the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which works to secure health benefits and safe working conditions (among many other things) for its members. Eligibility is more narrowly defined than for AFM, but SAG-AFTRA provides a handy “checker” on its website. If you’ve released music on a major label or a subsidiary of one, you may be good to go.

Know your resources

Music Health Alliance is a nonprofit organization based in Nashville whose mission is to “Protect, direct and connect music industry professionals with medical and financial solutions.” Founded in 2013, it offers its services for free and is funded by grants, donations, and benefits.

There are a number of aid organizations for musicians in dire medical circumstances. Sweet Relief, for instance, operates a General Fund, a Music Cancer Fund, and an Elder Musicians Fund. Their list of supporters reads like a red-carpet manifest; anyone can donate directly, and they also regularly auction off collectors’ items and VIP opportunities to help raise money.

The Recording Academy is well known for its annual star-studded show, The GRAMMY Awards, what’s less known is its charity MusiCares which focuses on the health and welfare of the music community. MusiCares provides confidential assistance to clients whose needs range from medical expenses to substance abuse services to psychotherapy.

Prevent illness

One of the best ways to keep your healthcare costs down is to practice prevention by taking good care of yourself. So if the only exercise you get is lifting Marshall stacks into and out of an Econoline van you may want to consider a regular fitness regimen. Educate yourself about healthy eating habits and commit yourself to implementing them. This can take some planning when you’re especially busy, or touring, but gas station snacks, late night pizza and backstage rider provisions can really start to take their toll on your insides, which will in turn affect your mental health. Consider making time for yoga—a particularly effective practice because of its physical as well as mental and emotional dimensions.

Yoga for the Arts is an NYC-based studio started by Nicole Newman whose scoliosis was aggravated by years of rigorous flute practice. Her stated mission is to help musicians with chronic body pain and as well as performance anxiety. And she’ll do virtual consultations if you don’t live in the five boroughs.

—Nate Baker

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