Had dinner tonight with a friend I've known for about 8 years and haven't seen in probably at least 2. He's quite a bit younger than me, almost 15 years younger, and just graduated from college last spring.
With a BFA in Theatre. (Little known fact about me...I was a theatre major too.)
Now, unlike me, ActorMan went to a teeny tiny college with only 700 students, so unlike me...he had no access to a student health center or medical services. And because he went to this BFA program after a few years of working and going to a junior college, he was already a little long in the tooth, college-age wise. After 25 you are no longer a dependent as far as his parents' carrier is concerned, so a couple of years ago he landed without any health plan, but still going to school.
And the immediate post-graduation future didn't look too promising from that perspective either, because as ActorMan put it: graduating with a theatre degree doesn't prepare you for the kind of job that gives health coverage.
The ActorMan story continues...
Yes, most of ActorMan's classmates are waiters or bartenders or doing temp work...flexible jobs that let them pursue their art. But don't really result in health benefits.
The thing is that up until a month ago ActorMan had a job that gave him coverage. He worked in a soulless job in the admissions office of the college from which he had just graduated. 20 hours of work to be done, spread out over a 40 hour week.
And one year post-graduation he finally asked himself "what am I doing?" and decided to pack himself off to New York...he leaves in 2 weeks. When heading off to be a starving artist, a monthly $300 COBRA bill seems like a luxury for a guy with no job yet and lots of student loan debt.
When I moved to NY after college I was a member of the actor's union. Back then you could buy into the union health plan simply by virtue of membership. I have no idea what I paid...I remember I didn't do it right away because it seemed expensive, but eventually when I got a steady job I did buy into the plan.
Several years later they decided to only let you buy into the plan if you had worked a certain number of weeks on a union contract in the previous 12 months. You may or may not realize it, but the employment statistics for union actors are pretty weak...only a small percentage are ever actually working on contract at any one time. And even weaker is the associated income...in other words you might be working a contract, but the vast majority of contracts don't pay a living wage all on their own. Even people starring in Off-Broadway plays likely have a day job. So changing the requirement ensured that they were going to boot a significant number of people off the plan, and one of them was me.
I lost my eligibility, so like ActorMan I went for a few years with no coverage at all. I would come home for the holidays and trundle off to Planned Parenthood for my sliding scale annual exam. Other than that I only recall going to the doctor once during the four years I lived in New York.
See, someone like ActorMan is an interesting case. This is someone who is pursuing a career that is erratic and unlikely to be lucrative. A society needs artists, and it seems unfair to say people shouldn't pursue such dreams. No one is saying he can't pursue it, but there is no expectation that he'll have access to any kind of health plan but the most light coverage (if he wants premiums that are at all within the reach of his economic situation.) Maybe one of my Intrepid Commenters will tell me that given how low his income is likely to be this year he probably will qualify for some government program...but honestly I doubt the idea has even occurred to him. I know it didn't to me when I was in the same boat.
So all these various artsy types are little health time bombs walking around, hoping like hell nothing big happens to them.
Like I do to everyone these days, I suggested to Actor Man that he at least give my sponsor eHealthInsurance.com a try and see if he could find a high deductible, low premium individual plan that he could afford.
But I think it would be cool if there was a group plan available to artists...if you could prove you were pursuing some artistic endeavor you could buy in and benefit from the collective. Not even the performing arts unions really have that anymore, so it's unlikely to happen. And it's not like our country has much sense of a national commitment to the arts either.
And you know what...back when I was 25 years old, dodging cars as I jaywalked in midtown Manhattan, I really didn't give it that much thought (certainly ActorMan seems more worried about his lack of coverage than I ever did.) But I look back now and breathe a sigh of relief that I never got sick or injured. (Other than my bruised ego from all that constant rejection!)