Music, Healthcare Reform and Why You Need To Care

When Pete Wentz was 23 years old, his life was not like most of ours. Pete was spending his time traveling around in a van with his friends and bandmates trying to make Fall Out Boy happen.

However, Pete did have something in common with an overwhelming number of 23 year olds: he had no health insurance. And according to what he said in a forum on Wednesday night, hosted by and Rock The Vote, his choices amounted to either pay for health insurance or put gas in the van. Insurance or buy a new amp. Insurance or promotion for the band.

I’m opening with this story as a way of impressing upon you why an article on healthcare reform is appearing on I know many of you complain anytime political opinion or debate mixes with music, but please, bear with me here. Because while you generally might not care about politics, teens and young adults are one of the age groups who need to be most concerned with the state of healthcare reform. Why? Because young adults are twice as likely to not have health insurance coverage through their employer. 1/4 of young adults, people between the ages of 18 and 29, report having some kind of medical debt and 1/3 of them have problems paying their medical bills. In fact, that age group is the most likely in the US to be uninsured.

And health insurance and health issues do constantly affect the musicians that many of you care about. Pete Wentz broke his foot during a concert after an ill-thought-out leap from a speaker. Gabe Saporta of Cobra Starship and Bill Kaulitz of Tokio Hotel both suffered from vocal cysts which threatened their careers. In early 2007, The Cab crashed their van and were very, very lucky to escape without any major injuries. And of course, let’s not discount the fact that even without career related problems, artists still get sick. In fact, Andy “The Butcher” Mrotek, drummer for The Academy Is…, was just recently in the hospital because of flu-like symptoms he developed while on the Alternative Press Fall Ball Tour.

More than likely, none of these people have health insurance through their labels. As Rock For Health explains “The artists see no benefits, no health insurance, nothing. Musicians are not seen as employees of a record label. They are ‘temps’ – temporary employees – because of the record contract that they sign. They sign their career and lives over to these labels, which help develop it and help it grow.”

Let’s not forget that it’s not just the bands who make a tour happen. Every tour includes a crew that helps get the show ready, go off without a hitch, and keep the bands fed. And none of those people are given insurance, either. Mark Hoppus, in an open-ed piece for The Huffington Post, relates the story of Ali, a caterer on the recent Blink-182 tour, who was rushed into the ER with appendicitis. While the doctors managed to remove her appendix before it burst, Ali found herself uninsured and faced with bills which total over $42,000. Ali has set up a site to take donations to help her cover the costs and Hoppus himself has pledged to match every donation dollar for dollar until Ali’s bills are paid off.

But this shouldn’t be necessary. There is no reason in a first world nation where someone should be completely uninsured. In fact, the USA is the only first world nation and only democratic nation that does not provide affordable healthcare for all of it’s citizens. While the very lowest income bracket has the option of Medicaid, let me assure that is only the lowest income bracket. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to get government assistance, no matter how badly you need it.

Right now, this issue is being heavily debated in Congress. Both the House and the Senate are working on drafts of a Healthcare Reform Bill as we speak. Er, type. According to Rock the Vote, the three biggest things they are pushing to see included are:

  1. Make insurance affordable for everyone by capping pay on premiums, out of pocket expenses and copays and/or provide a public option.
  2. Allow young adults to stay on their parents’ healthcare plan until the age of 26 (rather than being removed at 19 or when you graduate college). Also, allow young adults who have left their parent’s coverage, either for coverage provided by a college or a job, to return to their coverage if they lose theirs (ie: graduating from college, losing a job).
  3. End discrimination for pre-existing conditions (right now, you can be turned down for health coverage for any number of reasons, including having cancer, being HIV positive, having had a C-section, being pregnant or being a victim or rape or domestic violence)

One of the things Pete kept repeating during the forum on Wednesday night was that young adults needed to be informed of the facts because a lot of the information being provided is misleading. He said that a lot of people are trying to make the situation much more complicated than it really is, and that this is not a partisan issue, it is an issue of human rights. On tour he has seen countries such as Canada and France where everyone does have access to healthcare and it works.

In the spirit of Pete’s words, here are some quick facts that I feel need to be cleared up:

  • This would not be FREE health insurance for everyone. It would be low cost. There would also be a sliding scale to determine whether or not you qualify for a government subsidy to help you pay for insurance and how much help you would receive.
  • If you or your parents get your health insurance through a place of employment, nothing would change. The employer based system would not be touched, except for one way: no insurance carrier would be able to drop you because you got sick or they thought it costs too much to insure you. Meaning your coverage would become more secure.
  • The public option, if it is included in the final bill, would not be manditory. It is exactly what the name says it is, an option. It would, however, force private insurance companies to compete for customers, which could lead to them offering lower costs and better coverage for less.
  • This reform will not solve everything and it is not meant to. It is a step towards a healthier America, but just because it’s in place does not mean a magical change will happen overnight.

I have only briefly touched on the issue here. There is not nearly enough space for me to address everything that was even addressed in the hour long forum (which will be archived online by Monday, hopefully. I will provide a link as soon as it is live and suggest you watch!), let alone all the information out there available on the issue. And I urge all of you to seek out information, educate yourself, discuss the situation with friends and family, and decide for yourself. And, if you want to, take action. Rock the Vote has a fantastic site with information on how you can get involved and help work for this reform.

And remember, this is a change that will directly impact your generation, both those of you on your own and those of you who won’t be in danger of losing your parent’s coverage for a few years. It’s your lives and your health, protect them.