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Musicians Have No Health Insurance

After writing about the recent benefit concert with Ben Harper at the Mint for Babette Ho, I realized that I have heard about a lot of these benefit shows. This is probably the biggest problem in the music industry, no health insurance.

And even if musicians are always eager to help when one of their own falls ill, how much are they able to raise with one of these shows? A few $10,000s? At the best! And when you think how much costs a cancer treatment for example, it is never enough….

Among the recent statistics I have been able to find, between 15-16% of Americans don’t have health insurance, but 45% of usicians are not insured, and among the 55% who are actually insured, only 5% have insurance because of the music job!

Many of them simply cannot afford it, cannot pay for an individual plan out of their pocket. How much a struggling musician makes anyway? Certainly only a few 10,000s a year.

According to Rob Max who works for Sweet Relief, a 'California-based musicians fund that provides assistance to professional musicians who struggling with illness, disability and age-related problems', insurance is out of reach: ‘They're not choosing to be irresponsible – healthcare can cost you thousands of dollars a month, and when you get into your 50s the premiums go through the roof. These fees are way beyond most people's reach.’

Furthermore health insurance providers tend to think that musicians are high-risk customers because of their lifestyle and do not facilitate things for musicians.

This is what John P. Strohm, a lawyer and musician said to Indyweek.com: ‘Whenever I tried to get individual insurance and went through the battery of tests and paperwork, the premiums providers quoted were always prohibitively high. The unions and performing rights organizations really didn't offer any useful help either. I now know there are creative ways for musicians to get insurance, but it's up to organizations such as HINT to get the word out.’ HINT is a national nonprofit, born out of The Future of Music Coalition, which ‘identifies, examines, interprets and translates the challenging issues at the intersection of music, law, technology and policy’, and whose goal is ‘to inform and guide musicians, offering a telephone hotline through which musicians can ask questions about insurance options’.

But even with health insurance, things are not easy. According to the Guardian:
‘[Josh] Homme's Queens [of the Stone Age] bandmate Natasha Shneider died from cancer, aged just 52. She was put on chemotherapy pills – two a day at $500 a time. Schneider had health insurance that split the cost, but that still left her paying $500 a day for essential treatment. Now Brian O'Connor, the bassist in one of Homme's other bands, Eagles of Death Metal, has been diagnosed with stage-four colon and lung cancer as well as tumors on his bones.’

Homme explained: ‘This was a 6'3" guy. He went from 230lb to 180lb in six months. None of us could understand it. It's just heartbreaking. I'm 37 now and I've been beating myself up my whole life, but I'm insured, I know the status of my own health. Brian is only 44 and his insurance is sorted now, but even when you're insured you still get slow-rolled. The bureaucracy of insurance has become its own problem. Brian's cancer is incredibly aggressive. He needed surgery immediately, so we paid for four days in hospital with a brilliant anesthetist and one of the best surgeons in America. That was $25,000. If he'd had insurance he would still be waiting for it to clear and he would have had to have $100,000 worth of cover. It's mystifying to me where it's all going.’

Singer and songwriter Vic Chestnutt who died in 2009 had hospitalization insurance which did not pay for drugs or doctors or anything else, and he still had to pay $500 a month, which he could not afford; then his insurers paid $100,000 for his 3 stays in hospital but there was $70,000 left to pay for two operations! Unfortunately, there are many other sad examples like this one.

At a time when health care and Obamacare are at the center of the political debate, the problem remains huge

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