2005 Health Care Testimony
Testimony for People’s Forum on Health Care
Faneuil Hall Boston, MA (9/15/05)
(Members of the United States Congress were present at the Hearing)
Greetings members of the panel,
My name is Kathleen Bitetti, I am a practicing artist and also the executive director of the Artists Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization founded in 1973. In December of 1993, the Artists Foundation was a co-founder of the Artists Health Care Task Force*.
The Task Force held a series of public forums in the spring of 1994 to gather testimony from Boston artists on health care reform. The Task Force's findings and artists' testimonies were published in a report to the United States Congress in July of 1994. The report is contained in the packets I prepared for each of you.
Past national studies have shown that 30% of artists living in big cities are without health coverage and 43% of insured artists are at risk of losing their insurance. The Artists Foundation receives calls not only from Massachusetts artists seeking health care and affordable insurance for individuals, but calls from artists all over the country. I can assure you that things have not gotten better for artists.
The vast majorities of living/contemporary artists of all disciplines-- with the exception of the few who have become "stars" -- can not and do not earn a living from their work as artists and must have supplementary jobs to supply their income whether those jobs are teaching positions and/or jobs in fields not related to their artistic discipline.
We are currently seeing that many colleges and universities, are no longer hiring as many tenure track professors, but are opting for adjunct faculty so as to not have to provide health benefits. More and more artists of all disciplines are teaching as adjunct professors at multiple places and yet still can not afford health insurance for themselves or their families. Likewise, many artists work for small non profit organizations that do not offer insurance because they can’t afford to do so
I would like to further highlight several key points in regard to artists and healthcare:
Many artists work in fields not related to their art, and often those artists work multiple part time jobs that do not offer health benefits. These artists don’t qualify for self-employed status - thus they don’t qualify for group healthcare through self employed membership organizations.
Many of those artists who are self-employed as contract employees or as freelancers often can’t afford even the cheapest health insurance plans available to them.
Many artists who don’t qualify for free care or sliding fee care do not earn enough to be able to afford health insurance.
Often times, low income artists are not aware that they may be eligible for free care or care based on a sliding scale fee, and a majority of those artists who are aware do not take advantage of such services because they do not want to take services from what society has deemed the deserving poor-- mothers, children and the elderly.
Like many of the working poor, artists note that they are unable to pay for prescriptions and/or refills due to their limited discretionary income.
Artists note that their income fluctuates year to year, even month to month and mention that sliding scale fees or free care based on pay check stubs can be problematic. Their income fluctuation also proves frustrating when trying to pay medical bills-- since budgeting for the future or meeting payment schedules cannot be based on a fixed paycheck.
Artists state that the majority of them do not earn enough gross income to deduct "out of pocket" medical costs from their taxes.
Performing artists, particularly dancers- note that they often need to seek alternative medicines, such as acupuncture and chiropractic care, which are not covered by many insurance plans.
In 1996 Massachusetts made it illegal for health insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of preexisting medical conditions, but before that time many artists stated that they did not qualify for health insurance because of preexisting conditions and many said that they were "locked into" the jobs they had in order to retain health insurance benefits and/or because they had a preexisting condition.
Almost all of the artists state that they would be willing to pay for health insurance and health care but they have found health insurance to be economically out of reach.
Artists stressed that they need a plan that is unrelated to work status and is affordable to those who have limited discretionary income.
In closing, our 1994 report endorsed a national single payer health care insurance system that is not tied to work status and does not discriminate against preexisting conditions. That endorsement still holds true today.
Thank you for your time.
(Bitetti was the executive director of the Artists Foundation from September 1992 to August 2009)
* History of The Artists Health Care Task Force Program
There has been a national movement to integrate the arts into all aspects of health care facilities and their programming. The goal is to create an overall/total "healing environment" and to "humanize" health care facilities. Artists working in all disciplines have played a critical role in developing, creating and sustaining the "healing environments" in these facilities and in their programs. But in the noble efforts to create a "healing environment", many of the health care providers have over looked the fact that a large number of artists who provide the vision, skill and labor for transforming their institutions and our society, do not have access to affordable and adequate health care.
In response to this issue, the Artists Foundation co-founded the The Artists Health Care Task Force in December 1993 with The Boston Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs, and Boston Health Care for the Homeless. National studies have shown that 30% of artists living in big cities are without health coverage and 43% of insured artists are at risk of losing their insurance. The Artists Health Care Task Force used Boston as a model to document the problem. The Task Force held a series of public forums in the spring of 1994 to gather testimony from artists on health care reform. The Task Force's findings and artists' testimonies were published in a report to the National Congress in July of 1994. It was the Task Force's intention not only to inform Congress of artists' health care needs, but to also help make health care in Boston, one of the top medical centers in the country with one of the highest concentrations of hospitals/ medical facilities, accessible and affordable to the artists who work and live in the city.