The Healthy Artists Project: Why We Need Better Health Care

“There’s so much anxiety and fear in being an artist in this country to begin with, especially as you get older,” said Ken Bolden, a 53-year-old adjunct professor and actor. “For my friends who get married and start having children, not having health care is a real issue. So they start dropping out of the arts.”

Bolden, a past professor of mine at the University of Pittsburgh, was one of the first people I interviewed for the Healthy Artists documentary series. Since 2012, I’ve been visiting the apartments and art studios of creative people in Pittsburgh. Equipped with a Sony handycam, a small team of volunteers, and high ambitions, we set out to investigate the health care crisis endemic to the arts community.

“I went through bankruptcy last year because of medical bills, even with insurance,” said Jenn Gooch, when I interviewed her on film. Gooch is a 34-year-old indie folk musician, artist, and Carnegie Mellon graduate. “Economically, the best thing we could offer our citizens is health care, because as a lower-income entrepreneur, it’s impossible to start a small business or be self-employed if you don’t have insurance, especially if you have pre-existing conditions.”

Every artist seemed to have a story. There was Davon Magwood, a 26-year-old uninsured comedian, who couldn’t afford to see a doctor for his heart palpitations; Mary Tremonte, a 33-year-old printmaker, who worked a nonprofit job for over a decade that never provided her with health insurance; and Morgan Cahn, a 32-year-old artist who was wowed by the superiority of universal health care in the U.K. when she moved abroad for graduate school.

“I love the NHS [National Health System],” Cahn said. “It is embarrassing how I had learned to put off going to the doctor. I couldn’t afford to get treated in the U.S.”

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not provide universal health care to its citizens. We notoriously pay more for health care and get so much less. The U.K., Canada, and Australia have a type of universal health care known as single-payer—a proven, effective solution that could save our country $350 billion a year, with those savings used to provide medical, dental, vision, prescription, and mental health care coverage to all Americans. The Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction, but it is still a far cry from the single-payer system Obama once endorsed.

Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act encourages individual states to develop single-payer. States can apply for an innovation “waiver” and start implementing their own plans starting in 2017. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin led the way when he signed Green Mountain care into law in 2011, establishing a road map for a state-level single-payer system. Larger and less progressive states will need more help getting single-payer off the ground, and that’s where artists and creative people can really help.

The single-payer movement has yet to capture the heart of the youthful demographic (approximately 18-40 years of age) essential in generating political change. Obama’s 2008 campaign won us over with the help of posters by street artist Shepard Fairey, and the resounding optimism of “Hope” and “Change.” Single-payer needs powerful graphic design and visuals, social media and web outreach, youthful community events and rallies, and creative storytelling to give a face to the issue.

This September 2013, the Huffington Post credited the “passion and creativity” of our Healthy Artists project with helping to keep single-payer “alive and well in the political arena.” Here in Pittsburgh, we hold art exhibitions, community film screenings, talks, and workshops that bring together artists, activists, students, educators, doctors, and politicians. We’ve also created a resource of about 40 video documentaries and written profiles that are easy to access and available online for free.

Just imagine if creative people in cities across America got involved in single-payer advocacy. Students could revitalize the movement and influence real political change, while building their artistic portfolios. Professional artists could partner with health care nonprofits and obtain grants; they could receive institutional, financial support to use their creative skills in support of single-payer. Single-payer advocacy provides an opportunity for artists to make a true investment in the social justice issue of the 21st century, as well as in their own health and creative freedom. Consider starting a project in your community.

Images from the Healthy Artists Movie Poster Exhibition

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less