What reality do we live in where a college graduate who works full time cannot afford healthcare? I am that college graduate. My diploma reads, B. A. in Music. I’m self-employed, bootstrapping my way through the American Dream. Some people seem shocked when I tell them I haven’t been able to afford health insurance since receiving my degree. “You shouldn’t have become a musician,” they say. Excuse me, but I thought I would be rewarded for working hard as an individual, carving out my own path in the world. After all, isn’t this America? I grew up on the idea that I could become whatever I was compelled to be. I grew up believing in the great dream of independence and liberty, health and happiness. Instead, I feel judgment and fear for pursuing my musical passion as a career. I am not alone. There are many others that have been left on the wayside while pursuing a life in music and the arts. We have made sacrifices to do so. This is not a complaint, rather, an attempt to open eyes and ears to our nation’s vital community of musicians who have benefitted greatly from the Affordable Care Act.
In high-school, I played on the soccer team. My sophomore year during a game, I was running down the field and stepped in a hole disguised by overgrown grass. My leg twisted, and popped very audibly. I had torn my ACL. I was only sixteen, and my parents’ insurance helped shoulder the cost of reconstructive surgery. Like a lot of people working traditional jobs, my dad’s employer offered benefits and health insurance. I spent the summer on crutches recovering, while all my friends were out doing fun things; waterskiing, and swimming in the Great Lakes State.
Fall came around and I started my training again, eager to play the next season. It was a year later, down to the week. Dejavu. Another game. This time I was slide tackled from behind and my leg twisted. Snap. I’d torn the other ACL. Really? I couldn’t believe it. I tried to find a positive angle, and looking back on it now, my two summers spent laid up in recovery really gave me time to dig into learning how to play guitar. It’s something I’d always wanted to do. I’d learned piano at a young age and was fascinated by melody and learning to play by ear. Sometimes I’d even hear partially formed songs in my head. My summers in recovery really sparked my passion for music.
It grew so much that I decided to study music in college. But when I graduated, the economic landscape was in the midst of a shift (2006). Companies were looking for excuses to pull back benefits, and hire more part time workers. My fellow college grads were having a harder time finding jobs. And there I was with my music degree. I picked up flexible work that allowed me to gig in the evenings, and even out of town when I started touring more. These jobs offered no benefits, no insurance. But it did offer me independence and a sense of deep fulfillment, and that is worth more than any paycheck. Only when I married was I able to get on my husband’s insurance through his employer. But his job didn’t last forever, leaving us both without insurance.
When my husband was a just sixteen, he suffered a terrible accident that landed him in the ER with doctors standing by to amputate his leg. Fortunately, a wonderful surgeon was on call and after many painstaking hours of surgery, was able to save his leg. So there we stood, on our bum legs, which surely would need attention down the road. In 2014, the ACA went into effect and we could access health care again, despite both having pre-existing conditions. This dream I’d been clinging to, a dream to put in the work and make something on my own terms, and to give back to the world through music, finally seemed attainable.
Since the ACA was enacted I’ve toured coast to coast, been interviewed on WBEZ Chicago, played a sold out show at legendary Club Passim in Boston, and performed in front of 10,000 people as the single performing act of the evening. Even so, more successes on my resume wouldn’t necessarily enable me to have access to affordable healthcare, until the government makes and keeps the rules fair. It’s my hope that no matter what career path any young person chooses, they can jump into it confidently, without fear of being uninsured.
We are only as strong as our weakest link, and there are so many shattered links in our American chain. By making healthcare accessible to all (especially musicians, artists, and the self-employed), I can confidently say we are building a stronger America. Maybe even, a great one.