Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 67: Health Care and the Artist

As I have been laid up sick with the stomach flu the last 3 days at the same moment that the health care reform bill was being passed and signed into law, I can't help but reflect upon our nation's health care system and the effect it has upon its artists.

Since my divorce, the greatest overriding factor in deciding how to support myself has been health care.  Not income, not what I am best at, not what I most want to be doing, not even this lousy economy: health care.

For a country that values choice, freedom, and entrepreneurship; that believes in the ability of anyone to grow up to be whatever they want to be; and that has an insatiable appetite for arts & entertainment, we don't make it easy for people in this country to live as artists.  Given the fact that about the only way to afford decent health care is to be tied to a 40-hr/wk corporate job, and the miniscule percentage of artists who make anything close to a full-time living at their craft, the artist (or entrepreneur of any sort) has few options for actually making their art.   Some of us are fortunate enough to get on a spouse's plan, or be a part of a union that offers benefits we can buy more reasonably, but many of us go without health insurance all together.  Either that or we take the full-time corporate, non-artistic job and try to squeeze in whatever art we can in the spare time left after the grocery store, laundromat and vacuuming.

What choices we might have if there were universal health care!  Or even, say, an affordable public option anyone could buy into!  I would gladly live on a lot less money in order to have more time to pursue my art.  But right now I have to hang on to a certain number of hours at my corporate job so that I have the option of benefits there.   And I'm one of the lucky ones -- I at least have an option for coverage.  I have too many friends who are completely without health insurance and have no way to get it.

I am not putting the artist's plight on par with the people whose lives are devastated (or even ended) by our shameful health care system that denies so many people medical care for themselves and their loved ones (though certainly many artists are amongst those folks as well).  I'm also not looking for any kind of special treatment or hand out  -- I work, expect to work, want to work.  The artists I know who are trying to make a career of it are incredibly hard-working people, many of whom work the equivalent of two full-time jobs trying to pay their bills and be creative.  I am saying that I think we all deserve to have more choices.

Whether you are an artist or someone who has hobbies you are passionate about, what kind of life would you choose if you weren't locked into working 40 hours a week in order to have health care?  Would you choose to work fewer hours and live on less in order to have more time to do the things you love?  Would you start your own business?  Take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine the choices you might have before you if you didn't have to worry about health insurance.  Would your life be different?
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