Singing without health insurance

Youth Radio's Orlando Campbell.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Could it be? Is it possible? Will we actually get some sort of health care reform signed? There was a marathon negotiating session this week between the White House and congressional Democrats. They're hoping to have something ready by the State of the Union address a few weeks from now. Meanwhile, we never run out of stories about folks who are dealing with the current health care system. According to a recent survey by The Future of Music Coalition, as many as 45 percent of musicians are uninsured.

That's got 21-year-old aspiring rapper and Youth Radio reporter Orlando Campbell a tad worried.


Orlando Campbell on stage, rapping: You know, I know.

Campbell and audience: I get it, get it, get it

Campbell: Picture this: I'm on stage, the mic clutched tight in my palm with a sea of waving hands in front of me, and everybody chanting the lyrics to my song.

Campbell rapping

At this moment, the absolute last thing on my mind is health insurance. But recently on the way home from a concert, something made me think twice about how vulnerable I really am. A drunk driver slammed into my bright purple Buick LaSabre. My car was totaled, but luckily I wasn't injured. And even if I was, I have something most musicians my age don't -- health insurance.

"Tell Me When To Go Remix" by Trackademicks

This remix was produced by 28-year-old artist named Trackademicks. The song quickly became one of the biggest hits in the San Francisco Bay Area and it launched his career. To keep up with his concert schedule, Trackademicks had to quit his day job. He's been uninsured ever since. He says not having health insurance weighs on him, but at this early point in his career, even if someone handed him $5,000, the money probably wouldn't go to a health plan.

Trackademicks: It would probably go more to investing in my career, because it's all about creating opportunity. Once you get the opportunity, you can cash in on the opportunity.

I feel where he's coming from. As a young rapper, I have the same mindset. I need to rent a studio and promote my singles -- and that's not cheap. But Trackademicks knows investing everything in music, and nothing in health, is like rolling the dice.

Trackademicks: It is a gamble, it is a gamble and who's to say whether that's smart or not.

Michael Aczon is one of those guys who helps artists figure out what's smart. He's an entertainment lawyer and manager in Berkeley, Calif. He has seen major label contracts with health insurance -- just not the type artists find useful.

Michael Aczon: Buried, and when I say buried, buried in these contracts you will find these provisions for insurance. And essentially what the labels are doing is they are insuring an asset. Are they caring about you as a human being, and we want to make sure you're okay? Ahh, I'm pretty cynical about that.

Aczon says this type of insurance can only be activated at the label's option, which usually means when an artist's health begins to affect a company's profits. If a musician wants to have a baby, or go for a routine check-up, they're on their own.

R&B singer Angela Bofill, knows what it's like to be on her own with health challenges. Back when Bofill was at the top of her music game, she sounded like this:

Angela Bofill singing "Too Tough": He's too tough for me / He's from another scene.

But after suffering two severe strokes in 2006 and 2007, now she has trouble even speaking.

Bofill: Two times a stroke survivor. Damage my vocals cords. No sing no more.

Her career spanned 28 years, and she was signed to major labels like Arista and Capitol Records. But Bofill never had health insurance.

In just the first week after her stroke, her medical bills totaled a $100,000. To help with the costs, three benefit concerts were organized, with big name performers like Bonnie Raitt and Carlos Santana. The benefits helped, but Bofill was forced to sell her house to help cover the costs. Now she lives in a convalescent home in Vallejo, Calif.

Bofill: I never expected this to happen; most musicians not think about it.

But some do. That young artist Trackademicks thinks about it so much, he came up with a creative solution to at least identify possible health issues.

Trackademicks: I'm constantly asking friends who graduated from nursing school, trying to get informal diagnosis, because it's really important for my peace of my mind for them to tell me if it's serioushouldudl I worry about it right now.

What happens when his friends diagnose something serious? Well, he doesn't really have a solution; it's a gamble he feels he has to take. But if it was up to Angela Bofill, no musicians should wait to buy insurance.

Bofill: Set it up now.

And with all that she's been through, those words are not to be taken lightly.

In Oakland, Calif. I'm Orlando Campbell for Marketplace Money.

Vigeland: That story was produced by Youth Radio as part of their series Generation Invincible, about health care for young Americans.

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