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A Closer Look at the Plight of Uninsured Musicians

SOURCE: Published: 2012-10-28
New York Magazine's recent story with Grizzly Bear exposed several economic realities of being an independent artist in today's music business. The NYM went on to reveal that, “some band members don't even have health insurance." The Brooklyn-based rockers are far from being alone, as one third of full-time working musicians do not have health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. For a look at the plight of uninsured musicians - and what's being done to address it - we spoke with Adam Huttler, a leading health care reform advocate whose organization, Fractured Atlas, has been providing affordable health insurance to musicians and artists for more than a decade.

Hypebot: What do musicians need to do in order to ensure they have sustainable livelihoods ahead of them?

Adam: Musicians, like all artists, are essentially small businesses. They often don't like to think of themselves in those terms, but it can actually be empowering to embrace the concept. Part of being a business is taking care of your employees (i.e. including yourself) by ensuring they make a living wage and are protected from financial ruin. It also means having a plan and assuming responsibility for the execution of that plan. This is basic stuff, but you'd be surprised how many artists - including the most brilliant and talented - stumble from project to project without articulating their long-term goals and without taking care of their own needs. Maybe that works out okay for the 0.1% of them who become wildly successful, but it's not a viable strategy for the rest of us. 

Hypebot: Tell us about Fractured Atlas. What inspired you to start it, and what steps are you taking to ensure that more musicians get covered and live a better life?

Adam: Fractured Atlas is a national non-profit that helps artists and arts organizations with the business aspects of their creative practice. I got into this work because of my own first-hand experience as a theatre director and performing arts producer in downtown Manhattan in the late 1990s. So much fundamental infrastructure is lacking in the arts - things that people in other fields take for granted, like insurance.

Hypebot: Why do you suspect that only 1/3 of musicians have health insurance? Has it always been this way?

Adam Huttler: There isn't great data on this, so it's hard to say for sure. However, I'm aware of three studies that have been done over the past 10 years: one by Fractured Atlas, one by Leveraging Investments in Creativity, and one by the Future of Music Coalition. They all estimated that approximately 30-35% of US artists (across all disciplines) are uninsured. I don't know whether it has always been this way, but I assume it has.

Hypebot: What are your thoughts on Obamacare and how it affects musicians?

Adam: Obamacare isn't a panacea, but it's a huge step in the right direction. The biggest improvements in Obamacare relate to the individual insurance market (as opposed to the group market), which is typically where independent artists have to buy coverage. In the old model, individuals in most states can be turned down for coverage or forced to pay exorbitant rates for crappy insurance that doesn't cover pre-existing conditions. Under Obamacare, no one can be turned down for coverage and insurers are required to cover pre-existing conditions from day one.

Hypebot: Can you share any anecdotes of musicians whom you were surprised to see uninsured, or who faced severe situations because of not being covered?

Adam: We've provided artists and musicians with affordable health insurance for more than ten years and we've heard too many stories about the struggles and challenges they have faced. More recently, artists like Grizzly Bear and Amanda Palmer have put a spotlight on the fact that too many musicians, even seemingly successful ones, are uninsured. At Fractured Atlas, we help our members understand their coverage options, guide them through the enrollment process, and advocate on their behalf. Yet we have always been powerless to change the basic structure and economics of the health care industry. That's why we see the Affordable Care Act, while not perfect, as a game-changer for musicians and all artists. 


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