In 2002, FMC released the results of an online survey to gauge the level of health insurance among working musicians. The survey found that, of the nearly 2,700 respondents, 44 percent of them did not have health insurance. This report — Health Insurance and Musicians — details the results of the survey, discusses the grave consequences of having so many creators uninsured in America and articulates FMC’s plan to tackle the issue on behalf of musicians.
The Health Insurance Crisis in America
It is clear that health insurance coverage is an issue that concerns a broad spectrum of citizens. FMC has chosen to participate in the ongoing debate based on its particular interest in how health insurance issues are impacting its constituents; working musicians and artists.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that working musicians have had difficulty both accessing affordable healthcare and obtaining reasonably priced health insurance. Musicians and artists often work on a freelance basis – performing or composing for specific events, albums or projects – with compensation based on a contracted arrangement.
This creates two hurdles to obtaining health insurance. First, since they are usually not employees of any particular institution or corporation, they must seek out costly individual health insurance policies on their own. Second, because their incomes often fluctuate month-to-month, they may have a difficult time keeping up with premiums.
This usually leads to one of two options. Some musicians work extra jobs just to afford or obtain coverage, requiring them to juggle a music career with a full-time job to maintain benefits. Others give up, brushing off this necessity as a “luxury” that only employees of large corporations can acquire. Considering the fact that many musicians work three jobs to meet their household expenses it is not hard to understand why many musicians have come to view health insurance as an unnecessary extravagance that is out of their reach.
This situation is compounded by the reality that health insurance companies often consider musicians and artists an “at-risk” population. Whether this assessment is based on legitimate occupational health risks – frequent road travel, hearing damage, repetitive stress disorders – or by biases created by the hypothesized decadence of art culture, this prejudice certainly makes musicians and artists more difficult to insure as a group. Not only does this make access to healthcare more imperative, but also complicates artists’ attempt to obtain coverage on their own.
Understanding the Scope of the Problem
In March 2002, FMC conducted an online survey to gauge the level of health insurance among working musicians. Between March 15 and July 15, 2002 approximately 2,700 people filled out the survey.
In August 2002, FMC released this report, Health Insurance and Musicians which details the results of the survey, discusses the grave consequences of having so many creators uninsured in America and articulates FMC’s plan to tackle the issue on behalf of musicians.
Some key findings in the report:
- 44 percent of respondents did not have health insurance
When compared with year 2000 US Census figures – which indicate that approximately 14 percent of the public does not have health insurance – the number of uninsured musicians is very high – 44 percent. Even taken in its own limited context, having almost half of the musician respondents indicate that they do not have health insurance means that this is an important issue to tackle.
- The more time respondents spent being a musician, the less likely they were to have health insurance
Of the population of respondents that indicated they did not have insurance, 63 percent of them also said they spent more than half of their time as a musician. Of the population of respondents that indicated that they do have insurance, 58 percent also noted they spend less than half their time as a musician. In other words, the more time the respondents spend working as musicians, the less likely there are to have insurance.
- Of the 1,368 respondents that DO have health insurance, 25 percent of those are self-insured
According to 2000 US Census statistics, approximately 64 percent of the public is insured by their employers, 8 percent of the public is self-insured, 23 percent is insured via the government (Medicare/Medicaid), and 3 percent is insured via the military. Respondents to our survey that do have health insurance indicated that they are relying less on employer-based plans (37%) and more on securing plans on their own (25%).
- Of the respondents who DON’T have health insurance 76 percent say it’s becuase it’s too expensive.
Clearly the overwhelming factor in musicians’ decisions about health insurance is related to the cost of the plans. It’s interesting to note, however, that the 10 percent of respondents’ answers relate to not knowing where to apply, or being confused about how to apply.
It’s evident from the survey findings that a significant portion of the musician population is uninsured. This matches our initial assumptions about health insurance and musicians, based on our own personal experiences and time spent working in the music community. Second, it comes as no surprise that the most prominent factor in musicians’ decisions about health insurance is the cost of the plan and, for those who are uninsured, that not being able to afford the coverage is the overwhelming factor in that choice. Third, this survey provides us with evidence that musicians are, for the most part, uninformed about health insurance options offered by musician-related organizations and unions, but that a slight majority would consider joining a group if affordable health insurance were available.
What Options Do Musicians Have?
The majority of working musicians have a limited set of choices when obtaining health insurance coverage. Some labor unions and organizations – in particular AFTRA, AFM, NARAS, BMI and ASCAP – have recognized this problem and made health insurance plans available to their members. While these plans are a step in the right direction, we have found that many musicians (a) do not know about their existence or (b) cannot meet the annual income some policies require to qualify for the coverage. Our research has also shown that, in many cases, the coverage offered is no less expensive than general HMO plans offered to individuals through a traditional national insurance network.
As the cost of both health care and insurance coverage continues to increase, this problem needs to be addressed. The difficulty in accessing affordable health care excessively burdens a wide range of working musicians and artists who are involved in creating the diverse cultural contributions that are fundamental to a thriving democratic society. The FMC recognizes the need to measure the extent of the problem and analyze the existing health plans in order to devise effective and comprehensive solutions for musicians.
FMC’s Next Step: The Health Insurance Initiative for Musicians
In November 2001, FMC launched its health insurance research initiative; a three-part research project exploring musicians’ access to affordable health care and health insurance in America. In 2004, FMC launched HINT — the Health Insurance Navigation Tool — that has been providing musicians with personalized information about their health insurance options, for free. Visit the HINT website to read our articles or to make an appointment to talk to our health insurance experts.