DDr. Scott Holden began his musical career as an independent musician working in New York City. The insecurity of the profession meant he didn’t have health insurance.
“Nothing is certain financially. You may be booked with work for the next two months, and have nothing on the books for the time after that. Insurance [was] a luxury [I couldn’t] afford.”
Without that luxury, Holden’s access to healthcare was limited. When he had strep throat, he suffered for weeks before finally getting care at a free clinic.
“It’s a terrible way to live.”
His experiences made me reflect on an injury I sustained while completing my undergraduate degree in piano performance. What had started as a mild pain in my right wrist worsened to keep me from completing simple tasks like opening a door or holding a pen. Since ignoring the pain wasn’t an option, I received reconstructive surgery on my very injured wrist. After a few months of recovery and several physical therapy visits, I was back on the keyboard, good as new.
I was still covered by my parents’ insurance at the time, so the surgery and rehabilitative costs were affordable. Without insurance the surgery alone would’ve cost over $7,000. What if I hadn’t had health insurance? Would I have gotten the help I needed? I would’ve been left facing a decision many musicians think they have to make: medical debt or a musical career?
Turns out, musicians often do make that decision. Last year, 43% of them lacked insurance. And this is in the post-ACA (“Obamacare”) environment where health insurance has never been more accessible to employer-less freelancers.
But is health insurance something you really want to go without?
Is health insurance something you really want to go without?
Even if you’re young and healthy, unforeseen accidents or illnesses can run up a huge bill. Slam your finger in the car door? You’re out around $3,000. Case of mono? $700. Dislocated shoulder? $5,000.
Musicians shouldn’t have to decide between risking their finances or their health. To help you out, I’ve worked with some health insurance experts to put together a list of tips specifically designed for independent musicians:
- Read up and get informed: Much of the discomfort with health insurance comes from an inability to really understand it. If you’re unfamiliar with insurance terms (like “premium” and “deductible”), the government metal tiers, and/or different networks, start with the basics. Guides like this one are very informative, and may soften your opinion of insurance. For example, did you know it is now required by law that every plan cover preventative care? That means your basic vaccines, screenings, tests, doctor visits, and more are free.
- See if the government will lend a hand: If you make less than $46,000 annually, you might qualify for tax credits or government plans, which means free or low cost insurance.
- Assess your health status: An accurate assessment of your health will allow you to figure out what plan is right for you. Ask yourself: How often do I see the doctor? What prescription medications do I take? If you are active and healthy, you should purchase a plan with high deductibles (a cost you must pay before your insurance kicks in) and a low monthly payment. If you’re managing an illness or starting a family, though, you might consider a plan that provides flexible and expansive coverage. Though it may look like you’re paying more per month, you’ll save a lot in the long run by having to spend less on doctor visits,
prescriptions, and the like.
- Under 30? Save money with a Catastrophic Plan: Anyone under 30 has special access to “Catastrophic” plans. The name is intimidating, but all it involves are low premiums (monthly payments) and high deductibles. Essentially, they’re just a safe way to get access to essential benefits and basic care. And in the event of a medical catastrophe, you can avoid bankruptcy.
- Consider an HSA: An HSA is a taxed-advantaged savings account that can only be used for certain health-related expenses. Because you don’t pay taxes on the money you put into an HSA, it’s a powerful financial tool that helps you plan for the future and save money. Consider this: If you’re an average individual paying about 25% of your income in taxes, you can effectively stash away $100 in your HSA while only reducing your take-home pay by $75. That’s like getting $25 for free.
- Put your health expenses to work for you: Since you’re self-employed, you may be eligible to deduct your health insurance premiums at tax time. Write-offs are available whether you itemize or not. Make sure to consider this option when you file your taxes so you can put a little bit more money into your pocket each April. You can read more about this on the IRS website or the TurboTax guide.
- Check all your options: You can find affordable individual plans on comparison sites like Stride Health without having to go through the pain of healthcare.gov. You might also be able to join a professional group’s insurance plan, an arts association, or jump on a family plan with a spouse who receives employer coverage.
Happy shopping! And remember to find your plan by December 15th if you want to be covered on January 1st.
Aly Keller is an avid pianist, musicologist, and marketing analyst. She works for Stride Health— a health insurance recommendation engine that helps freelancers find their optimal health plan. Stride instantly compares available health insurance options, both private and public (think “Obamacare”), and helps customers pick the one that covers their doctors, prescriptions, and financial needs.