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Artists are getting help navigating health-insurance options

Lisa Melandri, CAM Director, supports VLAA's initiative 'Every Artist Insured'
VLAA Twitter
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Lisa Melandri, CAM director, supports VLAA's initiative 'Every Artist Insured'

Navigating health insurance can be a headache for almost anyone who cobbles together multiple part-time jobs or works freelance. According to Sue Greenberg, the executive director of Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts, artists are particularly prone to these pains.

“They’re basically self-employed and many of them have relatively low incomes or they work someplace where they have part-time employment and (health insurance) is not covered, so compared to the rest of the population there are more artists that haven’t been covered,” said Greenberg.

Like many multiple job-holders, artists, musicians and actors are frequently without access to work-place provided health insurance and without the knowledge base to navigate health-insurance options mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Artists' incomes are also prone to fluctuate from year to year based on shows, exhibits and subsequent sales, Greenberg said, changing eligibility within the ACA structure.

Artist Yuka Suga, appears on VLAA's twitter feed in support of its initiative 'Every Artist Insured'
Credit VLAA Twitter
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Artist Yuka Suga, appears on VLAA's twitter feed in support of its initiative 'Every Artist Insured'

So Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts launched an information and aid campaign aimed at getting as many St. Louis artists insured as possible. The group is hosting informational sessions and workshops at the Regional Arts Commission aimed to help artists understand and select health insurance that’s best for them. The organization’s even taken to twitter to find support from leaders in the arts community.

Lisa Melandri, director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, was quick to support the program. She agrees with Greenberg’s assessment that artists often work in circumstances that leave them without easy access to health insurance.

“Just because you are working and thinking and creating things outside the bounds of what we think of as normal workplaces, you shouldn’t be suffering for that by not having health insurance,” Melandri said.

According to a representative for the Missouri Foundation for Health, statistics aren’t available that cover the number of uninsured artists in the region or the percentage of artists affected by insurance-related issues. Yet “nearly half of all local artists earn less than $25,000 a year, according to a 2012 Regional Arts Commission survey released in 2013.” This places artists firmly in the camp of Missourians most likely to be employed but uninsured.

Artist and curator Denise Schilling runs the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Gallery and teaches at multiple St. Louis colleges. She used the VLAA services to better understand her health insurance options. Schilling has three part-time jobs and lost insurance she had through her husband’s work when they divorced. Schilling said the workshops help.

“I was able to get a very good health plan, actually I think it’s better than the one I was able to get with my husband’s plan.”

Actor Tim Schall, appears on VLAA's twitter feed in support of its initiative 'Every Artist Insured'
Credit VLAA Twitter
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Actor Tim Schall, appears on VLAA's twitter feed in support of its initiative 'Every Artist Insured'

Artist Nicole Cooper attended one VLAA session but didn’t use the organization to choose her insurance. Yet Cooper said she felt the session left her a more discerning insurance consumer.

“They made it really helpful for me to understand my options,” she said.

The VLAA will be holding informational meetings, workshops and personally tailored help sessions through the open enrollment period’s end in January.

The work is supported in partnership with Saint Louis University’s Law School students and Cover Missouri, an organization aimed at providing information and helping reduce the number of uninsured Missourians.

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