Obamacare for creative types

 Healing Arts
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  October 17, 2013

This week’s Maine International Conference on the Arts in Orono offers workshops for artists and arts administrators focused on everything from public art and performing at rural venues to intellectual-property protection and portfolio development. But if there’s one session all attendees should mark on their calendars, it’s the one scheduled for Friday morning at 9:30 am — the one called “Artist Health Insurance,” covering “the ways in which the Affordable Care Act impacts individuals and small business in the creative sector.”

Simply put, it’s imperative that we figure this out. An online survey of 3402 American artists (dancers, musicians, visual artists, writers, filmmakers, and actors) earlier this year found that 43 percent do not have health insurance (compared to 18 percent of the general public). The survey, conducted by the Future of Music Coalition and the Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center (AHIRC), two organizations that help artists navigate the confusing world of premiums and co-pays, found that of those who do have health coverage, 39 percent pay for it themselves (a rate six times higher than the estimated 6 percent of the general population). Unsurprisingly, 88 percent of those without health insurance said they don’t have it because they can’t afford it.

“Essentially, the more personal income derived from art, the less likely the respondent is to have health insurance,” the study states.

Meanwhile, when asked whether they understand how the Affordable Care Act, which will require most Americans to obtain coverage by March 31, 2014, will impact them and their families, 55 percent of respondents said they “don’t understand at all,” or “I’m unsure.” Artists cited a lack of familiarity with the new health-plan exchange system and difficulty predicting their freelance incomes as major sources of confusion.

That’s why the Future of Music Coalition, the AHIRC, and other organizations such as HeadCount, which works with musicians to promote civic engagement, are collaborating to provide resources and information for working US artists. At health.futureofmusic.org, creative types can read answers to frequently asked questions tailored specifically to them, such as: “If I purchase coverage through an exchange, will it help me with health care needs while on tour?” and “What if I can’t predict what my income is going to be?” HeadCount also set up an artist-friendly hotline (919.264.0418) that will be in place at least until March 2014. In the two weeks since the health-insurance marketplace has been open for enrollment, the hotline has already received more than a dozen calls, says HeadCount executive director Andy Bernstein.

Friday’s health-care talk at the Maine Arts Commission’s International Conference on the Arts will be led by Michael Gendreau, director of outreach, education, and communications for Maine Community Health Options, a Lewiston-based nonprofit that will provide health insurance to Maine people and businesses under the Affordable Care Act (see “New Insurance Model Debuts” by Deirdre Fulton, June 7). The consumer-operated and -oriented plan (CO-OP), funded in part by the federal government, will be governed by the same people who are covered by its policies. The organization has embraced the model of “value-based insurance design,” which encourages preventative care and discourages misused or unproven care such as unnecessary emergency-room visits or certain types of imaging. MCHO representatives will have a presence at the conference beyond the workshop; interested individuals can even sign up for new plans on site.

For more information about the arts conference, visit mainearts.maine.gov.

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