Insuring the Artistic Class

Feb 11, 2013

Many Georgia artists are uninsured. Could the Affordable Care Act change that?
Credit Kate Sweeney

One in four Georgia adults lacks health insurance. An event this weekend hoped to draw attention to that gap, while providing a little help to one group that’s especially vulnerable: artists.

Filmmaker and musician Emory Goocher is in his 20s. For a long time, he says he didn’t think about healthcare much. Then last fall, he was riding his bike through Grant Park when he hit a low fence, which, he says, "I just didn't all. I just ran into it." 

The accident knocked out one tooth completely, and chipped another.

He doesn’t have health insurance, so he went to a friend at his church who happened to be an oral surgeon. "He was able to extract the tooth for me, and then I was able to go somewhere else and get a temporary tooth made."

Because he doesn’t have health insurance, Goocher came to the Little Five Point Community Center  Saturday to get a free health screening. It was part of the first Arts Health Day, a special event supporting the healthcare of artists.

At the event, 60 self-employed artists without health insurance got their blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels checked. There were also lectures and panel discussions from medical and holistic health groups.

Shannon Turner is with Alternate Roots, one of the three arts groups that hosted the event. The other two were C4 Atlanta and Wonderroot. She says, "We wanted to create a day that was dedicated to artist health. They are well-trained, intelligent people who are supporting our cultural scene, but they are working way below the poverty line, and health-care is particularly challenging for them."

Turner says she knows this because of surveys of artists her group works with. C4 Atlanta has done similar surveys, with similar results: Their artists tend to have high education, and low incomes.

There are other challenges. Most people who have health insurance get it through their jobs. Employers are unlikely to offer coverage to contract workers, which a lot of artists are. Furthermore, in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau said 22% of Georgians lacked health insurance altogether—putting the state in the bottom five, nationally.

But changes may be in the works.

Cindy Zeldin, director of the health advocacy group Georgians for a Healthy Future, says that next year's rollout of a number of provisions in President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act might ameliorate the situation. First, the act would provide tax credits to people when they buy health insurance. It would also prevent people from being turned down for pre-existing conditions. 

"That," says Zeldin, "could potentially impact people like artists, who are self-employed, who have some income, but who may not be able to pay for what's out there right now--or who may be denied right now because they have a health condition."

But Governor Nathan Deal has also said the state will opt out of Medicaid expansion, which would provide care for about 650,000 low-income individuals--calling it too costly to the state.

Arts Health Day organizer Jessyca Holland with the arts group C4, said she thinks everyone should have health care, but she hopes the weekend’s event raises awareness of the health-care crisis within Atlanta's arts community in particular. "We're trying to address it in a small way here today. Your health is your best asset, and you can't create; you can't earn, without being healthy."

 She said they plan to hold another Arts Health Day next year.