Nevada Hill of Bludded Head Has Cancer and, Like Most Artists, No Health Insurance
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 firstname.lastname@example.org). 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.