The concept of the starving artist is more than just a romantic characterization pertaining to choosing pursuits of the soul and intellect over material comforts – it’s a reality for many painters, actors, musicians, and other types of artists pursuing their creative dreams. Unfortunately, it also happens that many artists are self-employed, work on contract, or otherwise follow a unique path when it comes to earning a living.
This, of course, means that they forego the employer-sponsored health insurance benefits that traditional, full-time employees often enjoy. In other words, artists are generally left to pay for their own insurance policies out-of-pocket. This can be a major expense, whether you’re a starving artist or you’re living high on the hog.
In some cases, artists can join unions related to their particular craft and gain access to affordable health insurance options that way. For those that earn a minimal income, government assistance through the health insurance marketplace is also an option to cut costs. Then there are private options for artists that have managed to succeed beyond their wildest expectations, financially speaking, making them ineligible for tax credits or other assistance.
There are many options to explore if you’re an artist living your dream and you find yourself in need of health insurance. Here are a few to consider.
One of the best options for many artists (and others with low income) is to piggyback on the insurance policy of a family member. If you are under the age of 26, for example, you can remain on a parent’s health insurance coverage for significantly less than securing your own policy.
If you are married and your spouse receives health insurance coverage through his/her place of employment, it may also behoove you to be added to this insurance policy, if spouses are covered. The ability to be added to another’s insurance policy is likely to deliver the lowest cost for coverage when you would otherwise have to pay out-of-pocket for an individual policy.
Not all artists have the opportunity to join unions related to their profession, but some do. Those working in the film industry, for example, may be eligible to join creative or technical unions, such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), both of which offer members the opportunity to procure health insurance.
Suppose your type of art doesn’t have any unions or guilds to speak of. What then? You can always join the Freelancer’s Union. This group is for any independent worker and members have access to health plans and other types of insurance.
It’s best to do some research and understand all of your options prior to getting health insurance through an artist’s union. Although it is possible that you could pay lower premiums thanks to being a member of a group that has negotiated lower rates, this is not guaranteed.
Many struggling artists spend years working at other occupations to supplement their income. It’s a common joke in Los Angeles that there are no waiters, only actors waiting for their big break. Having a second job is not only a good way to earn extra income, but it could also yield opportunities to take advantage of employer-sponsored health coverage.
If this is your goal with a secondary job, you need to make sure you know what is offered up-front. A small, local restaurant, for example, may not offer the same benefits as a national chain. Or you might have to work full-time hours in order to qualify for participation in an employer-sponsored plan (and this could eat into the time you wish to devote to artistic pursuits).
In other words, you need to explore your options before taking on a second job. Paying the bills is great, and if you can nab affordable coverage in the process, it’s even better.
If you can’t get insurance coverage through a parent or spouse, you’re focusing on your art full-time instead of holding down two jobs, and you’re not a member of any union, your next option for health insurance coverage is the ACA marketplace. All you have to do is fill out an online application and you’ll find out what types of insurance options are available.
If you don’t make a lot of money, you will likely qualify for government assistance, such as low-cost plans or tax credits of some sort to offset costs. In some cases, you may even be eligible for free services through Medicaid.
This might depend on your state of residence, though. When Obamacare was enacted, several states refused to contribute state funds to the Medicaid expansion plan. As a result, these states offer fewer benefits to low-income residents. What if you’re not eligible for Medicaid but you also can’t afford the lowest-cost plan offered?
Don’t forget, if your annual income is low enough, you may qualify for an exemption in order to avoid the penalty associated with a failure to meet mandatory minimum requirements for coverage. This is obviously not ideal – it’s much better to have insurance, especially if you can’t afford the cost of unexpected medical bills – but if health insurance simply isn’t in your budget, you can apply for exemption.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tends to grant exemptions for those living at 138% of the poverty level or below, particularly in states that have refused to fund Medicaid expansion. Other valid reasons for exemption also exist, and you should discuss potential exemptions with a marketplace representative.
This is almost certainly going to constitute the most expensive choice for health insurance coverage, but it is still an option. If you are one of the lucky individuals that earns a decent living through your art, you may elect to pay for a healthcare policy from a private insurance provider.
The only real upside to going this route is that you could potentially get coverage not available through the ACA marketplace. However, it will probably cost you an arm and a leg. In most cases, you’re going to find plenty of coverage options at far more affordable rates through the marketplace.