While state officials seek out ignored or underserved demographics for the new health insurance exchange, Oregon’s musical and creative communities are showing the interest is mutual.
Jeremy Wilson was one of Oregon’s best known musicians, even before he underwent four heart surgeries.
“I was born with this congenital heart condition,” Wilson explained.
Wilson spent his teens, twenties and thirties playing in breakout acts like Pilot, and the Dharma Bums, all the while fending off what turned out to be a chronic condition. “When I would pass out, I would go, ‘Oh, that’s got to be from exhaustion, dehydration and these things,’ rather than, as a doctor finally told me, ‘No, my son, there’s something seriously wrong.’ “
After spending years dealing with his health, Wilson started a non-profit foundation bearing his name. He had no insurance, and was looking for a way to avoid selling the recording studio he’d built and run for eight years.
But the Foundation also became a focus for Wilson’s advocacy for uninsured musicians.
Wilson points out that even now, after doctors tell him the surgeries have fixed his heart defect, he still can’t get traditional insurance.
That’s why Wilson helped organize an info session this month at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. Musicians were invited to ask questions, and get ready to sign up.
At the session, Amy Fauver from Cover Oregon said going forward, working musicians will be able to buy at cheaper rates through the new health care exchange. But she also outlined options for those who are barely getting by.
“A huge piece of the Affordable Care Act is the expansion of Medicaid,” Fauver told the crowd. “Starting in January, the income level for Medicaid goes up substantially.”
Fauver says individuals making a little over $15,000 a year or less, and families of four making up to $70,000 a year, will now be eligible for state-sponsored coverage.
“The wait lists will go away,”Fauver says, “and it’s really terrific insurance.”
Lots of people at the forum expressed interest in signing up.
Marshall and Jessica Serna aren’t playing music professionally now. She’s a bartender, he’s a freelance photographer’s assistant. But they have in the past. Their combined income is about $33,000 dollars a year. And Jessica Serna says neither of them is insured.
“It’s been about nine years now,” she says, of her own peroid without coverage. The Sernas have paid thousands out of pocket for various medical problems.
Marshall Serna says he and his wife are in their late 30s and ready to try Cover Oregon. But he knows a lot of other musicians who might not be ready to shell out even $200 or $300 per month.
“I think that’s going to be one of the hard sells for this whole thing, ” He says. “There are a lot of healthy young people that it’s going to be difficult for them to see the value of buying into this program.”
For other performers, the need is immediate. Even as Cover Oregon was explaining the new system to musicians at one club, another venue was trying to help a musician with a health care crisis now.
A standing-room only crowd bought tickets for a benefit show at Jimmy Mak’s to help out LaRhonda Steele, who’s sung blues and funk around Portland for years. She’s undergoing treatment for cancer.
Susan Mills helped organize this show. She’s married to a musician and started putting together benefits after seen friends she’d known for years run into health problems, and stop gigging. “There’s not a lot of options for people who are uninsured and underinsured,” Mills says.
As of this week, the state says it still can’t process applications through its health exchange website. But officials are coming up with contingency plans to accept paper applications for people who want to enroll.