From SXSW: Health Reform and Insuring the Creative Class

Published on
March 18, 2011

The Future of Music Coalition conducted a survey in 2010 showing that 33 percent of musicians responding had no health insurance. It's a problem that resonates with freelance journalists or those who do not receive health benefits from their employers. Broader concerns about health access in the United States cut across professional boundaries.

A South by Southwest (SXSW) music panel on Wednesday offered resonant advice for this so-called creative class, which struggles to find affordable health insurance. Career GPS takes a cue from musicians this week and offers advice from the panel, cleverly called "Break a Leg!"

Health media job openings, fellowships and grants are at the end of this post. You can keep up with Career GPS via RSS.

Here's the personal story from the panel: Patrick Spurgeon, a drummer in the band Rogue Wave, has a transplanted kidney. He was the subject of a documentary called D tour which followed Spurgeon as he dealt with kidney failure and dialysis while touring. Spurgeon qualified for Medicaid because he was on dialysis, but when he opted for a kidney transplant, he discovered that he will be dropped after three years unless he maintains a low income. If his band takes off and he does earn more, his pre-existing condition will make his health insurance premiums exceptionally high.

"I'd be perfectly willing to buy insurance if I knew it would cover me," says Spurgeon, "but right now I'm happy, poor and healthy."


The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center offers a handy guide for musicians called "Every Artist Insured" (PDF) and Renata Marinaro of the The Actors Fund introduced the topic of health reform with the well-known Kaiser Family Foundation explainer video. AHIRC's website also offers an easy-to-navigate map to learn more about health care insurance in different states.

"The reason why health reform is important for musicians is because most musicians make less than $24,000 a year," Mariano says. "A lot of independent creative workers are shut out of this system." Freelance journalists' salaries aren't much better; A 2010 survey conducted by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers found that freelance business journalists in North America make $25,000 to $30,000 a year on average.

Health care reform is not a magic bullet for insuring individuals, but it created new options for freelancers who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare: Preventive services are now free if you bought a new health insurance policy before September 23, 2010. High-deductible plans purchased after the cut-off date have to provide these services. If you are under 26, you can now stay on your parents' policies.

If you have been uninsured for six months or longer by 2014, you will be guaranteed health insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions. Under health reform's individual mandate you begin to pay penalties if you are not insured by 2014. You will also be able to opt for subsidized coverage through an exchange if you are buying insurance on the open market and your premiums will be capped at a percentage of your income. Plans will be standardized, including catastrophic plans for those under age 30. Policies will never exclude essential benefits, such as pregnancy or cancer care. Kaiser Family Foundation offers a very navigable and complete timeline of the implementation of health care reform provisions.

But for Spurgeon, come 2014, these provisions might not be enough. He will continue to get Medicaid benefits if his income stays low and will be eligible for discounted insurance if his income rises, but there is no guarantee that his state's insuranceexchange will bring premiums down to a manageable price or that these reforms will actually happen. For example, one provision of the reform bill, that 80 percent of must be spent on medical care rather than administrative costs, is being fought tooth and nail in Washington D.C.

Nan Warshaw, the co-owner of Bloodshot Records in Chicago, provides her seven employees with complete health insurance. She was featured on the White House website for health care reform as a small business that will be eligible for a 12 percent tax break under health care reform. But, like media organizations who work with freelancers, there is no way for her label to offer insurance to its artists who are not considered employees.

Alex Maiolo of the Future Of Music Coalition expressed skepticism about health reform: "Solving the problem of getting people insured by telling them to buy insurance is like telling starving people to go buy food," he says.

The panel highlights ways freelancers and musicians can bypass health insurance all together, at least until 2014. Carolyn Schwarz, executive director of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), partnered with local hospitals, clinics and dental clinics to provide care for musicians who are uninsured.

"Everyone is still unclear if the requirement for health insurance in 2014 will still be around in 2014," Schwarz wrote in a follow-up email. "But if it does move forward I think HAAM will have some important roles to play including: helping the musicians navigate and understand the new requirements and choices." Her organization would also continue to help musicians obtain services not offered by health insurance.

Dr. Sean Gamble, a pediatrician from John Muir Medical Center in Oakland, California, used to be a touring musician. He's familiar with common ailments of touring musicians -- food poisoning, chronic cough, twisted ankles from ill-advised jumps from the stage -- and he says that it's important for freelancers to learn their low-cost options for care. Go to your local community clinic, he advises. Almost every town has one that is federally subsidized and will help you enroll in appropriate services based on your income level. Urgent cares are a lower-cost option than emergency rooms, and if you have to be hospitalized, be proactive about asking to speak to a social worker or financial counselor.

"You shouldn't be afraid to seek medical care for yourself or your family if you are uninsured," Gamble says. "It's important to get plugged into a clinic, plugged into a doctor who knows you."

Health Media Opportunities

New Job and Internship Listings

Assistant Photo Editor, Everyday Health
Location: New York, NY
Status:Full Time
Medium: Online

Director of Latino Media, Parenthood Federation of America
Location: New York City, Long Island, Hudson Valley
Status: Full Time
Medium: Communications

Multimedia Intern, University of California, San Francisco (via J-Jobs)
Location: San Francisco, CA
Status: Part Time, Summer ($10/hour)
Medium: Communications

Nurse Writer, (via JournalismJobs)
Location: Houston, TX or telecommute
Status: Full Time
Medium: Online

Senior Editor, EyeNet Magazine (American Academy of Ophthalmology)
Location: San Francisco, CA
Status: Full Time
Medium: Magazine

Researcher-Reporter, FairWarning (via J-Jobs)
Location: Not Listed
Status: 30-35 hours/week
Medium: Online

Fellowships and Grants

Rosalynn Carter Fellowships For Mental Health Journalism
Eligibility: Open to journalists with at least three years of experience and citizenship from United States, Romania or South Africa
Included: $10,000 stipends to report on mental health issues, mentorship to complete reporting project
Deadline: Apr. 18, 2011
From the Website: "Fellowships are tailored to suit the needs, interests, and experiences of each fellow. They also generate knowledge and information to benefit the mental health field and the public. When appropriate, the program requests that fellows conduct one training session related to mental health and journalism for their peers during the fellowship year."

National Health Journalism Fellowship, USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Open to professional journalists from print, broadcast, and online media, including freelancers. Applicants need not be full time health reporters, but they need to have a passion for health news (broadly defined).
Included: All-expenses paid six-day program in Los Angeles, $200 stipend and upon completion of what are expected to be ambitious, major fellowship projects.
Deadline: May 2, 2011
From the Website: "To stimulate collaboration between mainstream and ethnic media, we encourage applicants to propose a joint project for use by both media outlets. Up to two collaborators for each project may receive a stipend."

Dennis A. Hunt Health Journalism Grants, USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Open to all journalist members of Center for Health Journalism Digital. Print, broadcast and new media journalists from anywhere in the United States are eligible to apply, as are all past fellows of the USC Annenberg/California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships.
Included: Provides funding for proposed stories or multimedia projects that illuminate or expose critical community health or community health policy issues and acceptance to the National Health Journalism Fellowship program.
Deadline: May 2, 2011
From the Website: "Proposals can focus on a specific health topic or delve into a confluence of circumstances and conditions that impact health, including environment; social class; crime and violence; urban development; access to health resources or the lack thereof; school absenteeism; transportation or city planning, and and disparities in health. Topics that would NOT be eligible would include clinical trials, medical research, or the latest treatments for a disease or any project involving a population outside of the United States."

California Health Journalism Fellowship, USC Annenberg California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
Eligibility: Open to professional journalists from print, broadcast, and online media in California, including freelancers. Applicants need not be full time health reporters, but they need to have a passion for health news (broadly defined).
Included: All-expenses paid seminars in Los Angeles, mentoring for completion of reporting project
Deadline: Aug. 26, 2011
From the Website: "During the Fellowship sessions, Fellows get plenty of time to discuss with experts, and with each other, strategies for covering health news with authority and sophistication. Between the two sessions and for three months after the second session, Fellows confer by phone and e-mail with veteran journalists who guide them through work on major Fellowship projects."

Awards with Upcoming Deadlines

Mental Health America's Media Awards
Eligibility: Open to media professionals and student journalists in print, online, radio, television and film for work published in 2010, $30-50 entry fee
Award: Winners will honored at a Media Awards luncheon on Saturday, June 11, 2011, during the 2011 Mental Health America Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. and given access to all conference sessions, but must pay their own expenses to attend
Deadline: Mar. 31, 2011
From the Website: "Entries are judged by a committee of peers selected by Mental Health America for their knowledge of mental health issues, demonstrated excellence in reporting and editorial experience."

Award for Excellence in Science and Medical Journalism, The Endocrine Society
Eligibility: English-language journalism related to endocrinology and published or broadcast between March 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011
Award: Award plaque and travel to the Society's annual meeting awards dinner in June 2011
Deadline: Apr. 1, 2011
From the Website: "The award recipient is selected by the Society's Advocacy and Public Outreach Core Committee (APOCC). The committee will give weight to entries that demonstrate thorough research, accurate reporting, originality and contribute to the public understanding of endocrinology."

Pfizer Award
Eligibility: This prize is awarded in recognition of an outstanding book dealing with the history of science. The book must be published in English during a period of three calendar years immediately preceding the year of competition (books eligible for 2006 were published in 2003, 2004, or 2005). Edited volumes, as well as works with more than 2 authors, are not eligible. A multi-volume work by one or two authors may be nominated only after the publication of all the volumes.
Award: The award consists of a medal and $2,500.
Deadline: Apr. 1, 2011
From the Website: "The prize committee may consider books where medicine or technology is a central theme. However, both the Society for the History of Technology and the American Association for the History of Medicine award their own prizes and while strict separation of fields is not always possible or desirable, the Pfizer Award should be given to a book that is principally a history of science."

Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment, Society of Environmental Journalism
Eligibility: Any journalism that is predominantly about an environmental subject and published or broadcast in 2010 with $30-$80 entry fee
Award: $500 first-place, $200 second-place and $100 third-place prizes may be awarded in all categories.
Deadline: Apr. 1, 2011
From the Website: "Honors outstanding environmental reporting. Award is given to encourage journalists to help educate the public and public officials on environmental issues. Results achieved by the reporting may be included."

Educational Opportunities

Alzheimer's Issues 2011, National Press Foundation
Eligibility: Print, broadcast and online journalists with letters of support from supervisors
Program: Four-day, all-expenses-paid program in Washington, D.C., May 22-25, 2011
Deadline: March 21, 2011
From the Website: "This program will feature experts on topics including the latest research in Alzheimer's prevention, diagnosis and treatment; the soaring costs of care and lost productivity; global aging and its implications; the personal stress of care-giving; ethical issues around Alzheimer's Disease; ideas for change, and more. In journalist-only discussions, we'll introduce web resources and talk about ways to present this complex story."