Hebrew School

DGS: Finally, an affordable health care option for artists

A few months ago, I was speaking to a friend of a friend, a young fellow artist, about her current work, and the conversation shifted to her daily life, which her art required. The discussion turned to how she had gotten a bad case of bronchitis this past winter, how that had seriously fouled up her work, and how she was knocking on wood to make sure this wouldn’t happen again.

Perhaps in a purposeful moment of naivete, I blurted out something to the effect of, “Yeah, whenever I get sick, I make sure to see the doctor right away.”

Her response, of course, being, “I don’t have health insurance.”

It wasn’t really her response that caused me agita, but the way it was being said: She seemed to wear her lack of insurance like a badge of honor, something to be proud of. As though it didn’t faze her that a sudden accident could send her to a crowded emergency room to wait for hours, only to be jettisoned from admission to the hospital with a lollipop and a sample pack of Percocet. “Yes,” she seemed to have decided, “I’m an artist in New York, I’m tough. Maybe no one’s invincible, but I have to be. This resolve will inform my art and give me street cred– I’m cool.”

To me, that’s about as “cool” as obtaining one’s drinking water supply from the East River, or taking a drunken late-night walk in a subway tunnel. Though, to be honest, I can’t blame her for legitimizating a situation which requires the invocation of a normalized assumption that artists just don’t have health care, and if they do, it’s a luxury. With the vast majority of health care in the U.S. being obtained through regular 9-to-5 employment, it’s not enough for freelance artists to simply work on their art 24/7 (as any artist, particularly in New York, knows they need to do). You either have to have a trust fund or get a day job.

Even if you’re able to make enough income through your art, chances are it won’t be steady income, and the proceeds from that painting you sold certainly won’t include a free trip for a checkup at Mt. Sinai. And even with a day job and insurance, you’ll have to eke out the time to do your art, at the expense of a social life, a chance for a vacation, and time to simply manage your other daily affairs. That’s providing you don’t fall ill, in which case you’ll also have to cope with your illness in addition to your managed health care bureaucracy. The latter, by empirical definition, will give you the run-around, stick you with strange and exorbitant charges, and generally try to turn the screws on you at every opportunity. Think you have trouble with the IRS, freelancers? Have a go with Aetna, Empire Blue Cross, Oxford, or one of the other brilliantly-conceived insurance plans available in the city. Let me know how it works out– just keep in mind that band-aids and disinfectant are an out-of-network charge.

Sure, there are other options for artists in the city, like the Freelancer’s Union which (as of this minute) provides bare-bones (like, really bare-bones) coverage in Brooklyn via the Empire juggernaut for $130 a month. But be prepared to pay $382 if you happen to have a serious or chronic condition that requires regular care and maintenance– and don’t think you won’t have any unsuspected pitfalls with that plan, either.

Fractured Atlas proffers a $15/month “health discount program” which to me smacks of a cruel joke. Their most expensive current plan for New Yorkers costs $338. At almost $50 less than the comparable Freelancer’s option, you’ll only have to cough up a $300 deductible on this plan if you need any medication, and $2000 if you need your blood drawn or have to go to the hospital. After that there’s the $20-$50 copays for prescriptions and doctor’s visits.

And then there’s Artist Access, a high-minded plan attempting to establish an arts bartering system for medical services at Woodhull or Bellevue, but I’ve heard nothing but dissatisfaction expressed when it’s mentioned.  Fascinatingly, there seems to be little information available (on their non-existent website) about exactly what the plan does and doesn’t cover*. Sounds a little like buck dancing for your supper to me.

It’s not that the arts or freelance community aren’t trying. Dance Theater Workshop, for example, posted an apologetic notice on its website last year, announcing it would discontinue its HIP-HMO plan for members due to escalating costs. I’m sure other organizations are being forced to do the same.

And so for the moment we’re back to no health insurance at all. The predicament, I think, is most dangerous for young artists who, just out of school, are likely to earn very little income, think that no harm will come to them, and have no way of understanding (as older folks do) the severity of hardships that will come to light if they are diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness. In New York City, so many young artists are coping this way, living on the edge without realizing it, residing in a place which by definition engenders far greater health risks than, say, Waukesha, Wisconsin. An unexpected health crisis for such a person (and they do occur) would entail, at best, moving in with one’s parents to shoulder the costs, and at worst, well… lack of treatment leading to death.

Fortunately, I’m happy to announce a new option for New York artists. It’s actually not a new plan at all, but one that well predates any of the FDR-era reforms that helped provide health insurance to Americans. The cost to you as a health consumer is nothing— no monthly payments, copays, deductibles, invasive physical screenings, etc. The program ensures lifetime coverage for all medical costs from everything from prescription drugs, to doctor’s visits, to laproscopic renal surgery. You’ll be able to avoid most of the red tape that comes from government offices or HMO call centers. Using this plan as an artist, you’ll be able to pursue your dreams and create your masterpieces without fear of illness, and without being saddled with huge bills. Coverage is universal and absolutely comprehensive. It’s an innovative program called DGS.

It stands for don’t get sick.

* After a good half hour of digging, I discovered that the plan is run out of HHC Options, which does provide some more information, though not a lot. There’s no information here on Artist Access apart from some newsletter articles and video clips about various dignitaries celebrating the success of the program.


4 Comments so far
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I hear you on this, Dave. For a long time I had health insurance through a freelancers’ group out here called the Media Alliance. It was decent coverage, rather expensive as much insurance is these days, but one day everyone in the group — hundreds of writers and artists of all ages — got a series of letters saying that the Alliance had lost its certification to offer it. I sat in a room with hundreds of panicking people — including AIDS patients! — as we were told we were about to lose our health insurance. When I went to Blue Cross to apply for new coverage as an individual, I was told over the phone that because of my age and weight, I was “out of their range” for an individual policy. I’m sure the Alliance people tried hard, but they were young and seemed completely overwhelmed.

Thankfully, Keith teaches at a liberal private school that offers benefits to same-sex partners, so I was able to get on Kaiser through his plan. I have no idea what the other hundreds of folks, including some very sick people, did after they lost their insurance. Thus I certainly related to Michael Moore’s most recent film. Healthcare in this country should be a front-page scandal every day, and I have no idea what I’ll do if Keith ever wants to change jobs.

Comment by Steve Silberman

(As you so often do, you said it well…)

Just this morning, at my favourite Toronto coffeehouse, I had a heated debate about exactly this issue with a friend of mine…

I’ll repost on Facebook so my NYC-based friends can see it…

With a big hug and much love,

Comment by Erin Klee

[…] brooklyn, health, insurance, new york times, nyc, uninsured Good piece in the Times today about being young and uninsured in New York City: “At this point, I can’t really justify it monetarily,” said Ian […]

Pingback by Touch me, I’m sick « Hebrew School

you forgot to mention the Art for Progress Atlantis Health insurance Plan at http://www.nyhealthinsurer.com . Rates are very competitive and you cannot be denied insurance based on income or amount of work hours logged

Comment by Simon Bukai

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