Nearly one third of America's workers are self employed and thereby without company bases benefits. Health care is increasingly expensive, especially if you are self employed. It saddens me to hear story after story of dancers who cannot afford health insurance- after all, isn't the health of our bodies our number one asset?
One story in particular that is familiar to many people in the dance world is that of Homer Avila. I met Homer in 1997 at a festival in Nantucket, Massachusetts. At that point Homer was a beautiful dancer with great generosity for his audience and fellow dancers.
A few years later in a casual catch up email, I learned that he was getting his leg amputated. Homer didn't have health insurance and had procrastinated in getting a pain in his hip addressed for as long as he could. When the doctors finally discovered a large cancerous tumor in his leg, it was too late. (Here is an article he wrote pre-operation.)
Amazingly the loss of a leg did not keep Homer from dancing. About a year after the amputation, he reunited with dance taking an Alonzo King professional workshop. That in turn led to choreography being set on him byAlonzo King, William Forsythe and many more.
You can see Homer in action here:
In the end, the dance world lost Homer Avila. He will continue to inspire through his generous spirit and also the lesson of taking care of one's body. Health insurance is an important part of a commitment to health and fortunately there are resources out there to make it affordable for dancers and artists.
Here are a some great resources for health care:
Fractured Atlas: This national arts service organization provides health care plans to member artists through a group policy plan. (It works much in the same way that unions provide health care plans.) It does require a membership to take advantage of their many offerings across the country, but if you are affiliated with Dance USA you receive a membership to Fractured Atlas for free! Additionally, Fractured Atlas will assist members with questions and problems encountered during treatment.
America's Health Insurance Resource Center: The Actors' Fund created this database in 1998; all services are offered to artists irrespective of genre. Many of the links are broken down geographically, but there is general information about hospitals, prescription services and managing medical debt as well.
The Freelancers Union: Through free membership, The Freelancers Union provides insurance at group rates (similar to Fractured Atlas).
Insurance offerings are state-by-state through all of these programs. In my experience, insurance premiums New Jersey run nearly three times higher than in Minnesota for comparable programs. Interestingly, many of the New York City based programs are similar in cost, but with artist subsidization are made more affordable and not unlike other states offerings.
Part II will be non-insurance bases health care programs.