Nevada Hill of Bludded Head Has Cancer and, Like Most Artists, No Health Insurance

Categories: DFW Music News

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Brian Rash
Nevada Hill in front of the mural he's painting on the side of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios.

As Nevada Hill paints a large mural on the eastern wall of Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, a giant heart in the middle whose many arteries extend all around it and each connect to its own building, he is coated in sunscreen and flecks of paint, and he is wearing a sort of tan sun hat with a brim that protects his head for 360 degrees. Under that hat is a rag that covers the back of his neck. If he has to be in the sun these days, this sort of protection is absolutely essential.

A couple of weeks ago, Hill, a DFW musician and artist, was diagnosed with melanoma, and he currently has no health insurance. His job doesn't offer it as part of its employment package, and out of his monthly pay there is no way he could afford to buy a private plan, even if he bought one with an outrageous deductible.

These were his two reasons before he was diagnosed with cancer. Now, just about any insurance company in the country will deny him coverage because he has a preexisting condition.

On August 18, he posted on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of any resources that could help him (and if you do, please post them in the comments or email music@dallasobserver.com). The post reads:

On Friday I was diagnosed with skin cancer (melanoma). I have to have all the lymph nodes taken out of both arms and have to go through some kind of chemo. I have a large tumor under my left arm the size of a golf ball...The only reason why I'm posting this is to see if somebody knows of any cancer foundations that give money out to cancer patients with out health care. I have already looked at Livestrong, Easel and MASH. I will also be working on a mural at rgrs tomorrow so come by say hi if you're around.

Unfortunately, Hill's is not a unique problem. Twenty-five percent of Texans don't have health insurance, and nearly all full-time artists don't.

Roughly three and a half hours south of DFW in Austin, there is an alliance called HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians). HAAM has been active in Austin for the last eight and a half years.

Essentially, it is a sort of middleman between its clients, the low-income, uninsured working musicians (they must be Austin residents), and the clinics of Austin. In the past eight and a half years, HAAM has helped more than 3,000 Austin musicians get access to affordable health care, and is currently helping another 2,000.

For myriad reasons, HAAM is and will continue to be a necessary entity in Austin and Travis County. One of the biggest is Texas' recent rejection of a Medicaid expansion offered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (most commonly known by its right-wing anointed moniker, Obamacare), and the fact that when implemented next year, the PPACA will cover people in a limited capacity and only provide subsidies to people within a certain income range.

When it comes to a sense of civic responsibility to artists and musicians, Austin is home to one of only two or three similar organizations in the country. Another example is the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, which, like HAAM, relies on donations and grants.

Ultimately the issue of musicians without health insurance is so much bigger than most people realize. In his excellent eye-opening article for Stereogum, Max Blau lists a sizable sample of moderately famous independent musicians who have had horrid financial troubles due to not having health insurance, from Marnie Stern to Lou Barlow.

These musicians have often gone tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes even six figures in the red, because without health insurance they couldn't afford to worry about preventive care, so they didn't seek treatment until the eleventh hour, when treatment costs amount to many times more than preventive care.


Carolyn Schwarz is the executive director of HAAM, and she sees the musicians in Austin as a valuable commodity that must be protected and cared for. "We have industries here. We have big companies that recruit employees," she explains. "When they're here, the potential employees from out of town, they [recruiters] take them to go see live music, and they show them a good time. Here in Austin, you can't even barely go to the grocery store without seeing live music. So they're selling our city on that, and we also just have a huge music fan community that supports our work and believes in our work. I think that when people move to Austin, there are many reasons why they do that, but music is usually pretty high up in those reasons."

The organization's mission statement is succinct: "The mission of Health Alliance for Austin Musicians is to provide access to affordable health care for Austin's low income, uninsured working musicians, with a focus on prevention and wellness."

HAAM's own literature estimates that Austin's music industry accounts for almost $2 billion in economic activity, $38 million in local tax revenue annually, provides 18,148 jobs and boasts more than 9,000 musicians, most of whom are low income. The Austin music industry also helps to bring in tens of thousands of visitors annually through music and arts festivals, most notably Austin City Limits and South by Southwest.

Schwarz says that because Austin is the live music capital of the world, it only makes sense that the musicians who combine to give the town its global reputation should be protected. She estimates that the median income of most working Austin musicians is around $16,000. That's roughly what Hill makes, and it's not really enough for anyone to pay all of their bills and then add health insurance to that.



Two years ago in April, Hill went to a doctor to see about a problem he was having with his ear. He didn't have insurance, so his father paid for the visit. During the appointment, the doctor noticed a mole on his back that looked troublesome. Hill was instructed to take a picture of the mole and then return to the doctor in two months to see if there were any changes in the mole's shape and color.

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22 comments
Melissa Barker
Melissa Barker

The Health Insurance Marketplace for Texas doesn't have providers set yet. You cannot buy it now. October 1st is the start-date.

Paddy Martini
Paddy Martini

Some people responding to my comment seem to be having difficulty actually reading it. My comment is not toward Nevada. My comment is to the author of this article. "No way he could afford a private plan" perpetuates the belief that private insurance is completely unaffordable when they are not or that you need a job that provides health benefits(always more expensive than a private plan!). As I clearly stated: It is too late for Nevada to purchase private insurance, but that does not mean it is not too late for people like him, young single otherwise healthy people that might read this article to be prepared for unfortunate surprises. If you have an iphone you can afford to purchase insurance. Pretending otherwise not only doesn't help Nevada, but it effectively harms people who might end up in his situation because everyone just says "Oh I can't afford it"

Blake Wilson
Blake Wilson

He can buy insurance now through Healthcare.gov

Blake Wilson
Blake Wilson

He can buy it now. Healthcare.gov Oct 1 is just when it becomes "official". You'd think that if the government was truly interested in helping people, they'd be telling them this rather than blaming everyone for future failure.

southwestfork
southwestfork

Oh I'm a dick because I made a choice to work my ass off and get a job? I missed the connection that I don't rely on media to put out my woe is me story when I take personal responsibility for my own health, and financial planning. Coming from having nothing given to me and working for everything I have comes to me as a surprise that I'm a dick. Usually dicks are people who look for excuses not to be better prepared or make wiser long term career goals or financial choices.

Taylor Slovak
Taylor Slovak

I have a real issue with the question "...civic responsibility toward artists?" To assume one's civic duty would be any different insinuates a lack of autonomy concerning artists. I choose to be an artist. I also choose to work a job outside of my passions so that I may have health insurance, as it is of value to me. Does this mean our community should not rally together for a fellow member? Not in the least, we absolutely should, artist or not. I do hope Nevada gets the help he needs.

southwestfork
southwestfork

Guess its too late to go back and make a different career choice? One with benefits or options to pay for individual plan?

Lori Hensley McKinnon
Lori Hensley McKinnon

If the United States would drag itself into the 21st century like the rest of the civilized world and implement universal healthcare, this would be a non-issue. Such a tragedy for Nevada Hill....

Paddy Martini
Paddy Martini

"His job doesn't offer it as part of their employment package, and out of his monthly pay there is no way he could afford to buy a private plan," Obviously it is too late for Hill to purchase private insurance, but it is irresponsible for you to perpetuate this attitude. There are plans available for just this sort of circumstance that cost less than $100 a month. If you can go to a bar and drink, or buy a cup of coffee every day you can afford that. Many simply make the choice not to purchase insurance. Either because they don't care-- or because of misinformation such as this they assume it would be too expensive.

brnrash
brnrash

@Paddy Martini I see your point as the author of this article, but the issue is so much more complex than you realize. Case in point, a little while ago, I recently talked with a brilliant author, the writer of "The Working Poor: Invisible in America", David Shipler. One thing that he said that totally resonates with this issue is this:

"David Shipler, author of the national bestseller, The Working Poor: Invisible In America, has spent years interviewing and writing about those who hover around the poverty line and how they stay afloat.

“Every penny they earned they spent on rent, electricity, transportation, food, etc., with nothing left to guard against a problem they didn’t have,” Shipler said. “When you are poor and live close to the edge, your time horizon tends to collapse, and your ability to act preventively or anticipate hypotheticals declines.”

So my message to you is this: You probably haven't experienced a situation similar to Nevada's. And if you had, then I'm pretty sure you would be way more sympathetic, and you most likely wouldn't be spouting things the extent of having iPhones or buying beers or coffee. 

The point is that people who understand what it's like to go through a hard situation similar to Nevada's would be way more sympathetic than someone like you. 

If you don't understand this, then there's no way I can relate to you, and there's no way anyone who has gone through a similar situation can relate to you. That is all.

DavyCrockett
DavyCrockett

@southwestfork We obviously have different opinions on what being a dick is, dick. And he does have a job, dick.

jenn78ifer
jenn78ifer

@southwestfork no, you're a dick because you kick people when they're down with your smug condescension, oh, and like a true tough guy, you do it anonymously.  You're an asshole because your smug sense of self-satisfaction has clouded your brain into believing that there is some magical 100% correlation between working one's ass off and having health insurance

brnrash
brnrash

@Paddy Martini How is stating a fact "perpetuating an attitude"? That is the same as saying someone has perpetuated an attitude that starvation is acceptable by saying that certain people in the world can't afford food. In other words, it is completely idiotic, fallacious and heartless.

And here's another fact you may have missed: 25% of people in the state of Texas are not insured. That's one in four. This means that the probability that someone you know and hold dear is uninsured and might be faced with the same problem as Nevada Hill. 

I sincerely doubt you would have such a holier-than-thou attitude if, god forbid, you or someone you loved was afflicted with the same problem.

asquare4444
asquare4444

@Paddy Martini How does it help Nevada to say what he should've done?

jenn78ifer
jenn78ifer

@Paddy Martini The purpose of this article was also to help Nevada seek out more options for cancer treatment since Humana dropped him. I think it would be helpful to him if you and ScottsMerkin can provide him with that information. Sometimes people who are desperately trying to find help don't know where to start. Maybe you can provide him with a web link of places that provide that type of insurance.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Paddy Martini I recently purchased a cancer policy from an insurance company for both my wife and I and its $30 a month, It came with 2 options, a $50k payout upon diagnosis or coverage for all drugs and hospital stay, plus airfare/hotel for the spouse to be able to travel to see you if you get treatment out of your home city

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@jenn78ifer unfortunately, as the current laws exist, his pre existing condition will allow insurance companies to deny him coverage.  I dont know where to tell him to go now.

1dailyreader
1dailyreader

@ScottsMerkin But does the payment increase as you age or is this a set fee?  Sounds like a really good policy to have.  I'd be interested.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@1dailyreader I was told it remained the same.  bought it through Liberty Mutual.  Both my wife and I being smokers trying to quit, we know we are at higher risk.  We also paid more for our premium bc we smoke.  

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