The (deep, dark) secret life of a folk singer

Here, and in my monthly newsletter, I like to share little snippets of our music-making, traveling life. You all seem to enjoy a glimpse of what its like on tour when we are not actually performing… the places we visit, the people we meet. Even the home life looks different when you’ve been gone for two months, so that is also a good place to mine secrets to share. I try to focus on the good stuff and the funny stuff in part because it is who I am, and in part because I want to bring good, funny, stuff into your lives. I don’t share the dark matter. It feels so much like complaining and I have nothing to complain about. Our lives are rich with friends, deep in support, and filled with joy we have done little to earn.

But if I never talk about it, who will? So here goes: Health Insurance. Something has to change. Soon. I promise I will not takes sides, politicize, or tell you what to think. But I hope you will read through this in its entirety to vicariously experience the current health insurance market for self-employed persons. I am going to share too much personal financial and health information. That makes me uncomfortable. But we need to talk about this. We need to talk in real terms. I keep reading commentary about hypothetical people – faceless, nameless, statistical amalgamations of people whose theoretical lives are nothing like mine. We are real human beings working for a living and literally becoming afraid for our lives.

We had a good year. We made money. Tours were successful. Merchandise was sold. All the little music-related things we do on the side happened. A lot of luck and a lot of kindness were sent our way. We are middle class Americans. Yay! Confetti should be falling from the sky. That’s the goal right? That’s not only the dream but also the expectation of working people contributing to the community/state/nation. But before you do your happy dance for us, please keep reading. (Actually, I will not stand in the way of a happy dance. We are happy. Dance away and then continue).

Last year the United States considered an annual income of $16,460 to be the upper limit of poverty for a family of two people. In order to qualify for the sliding scale of health insurance tax credit one must earn less than 400% of the poverty line. $65,840. That is pre-tax income, before any personal deductions. Seems fair to me. We did that. We did that writing and playing music. Cue confetti. So we purchase our own health insurance. Our annual health insurance premium is $20,938. Really. Yes, really. Did you see all that confetti get sucked into a black hole? Approximately 30% of our pre-tax, pre-personal deduction income goes to insurance. We pay federal and state income taxes as well as social security after that. Could you live on what’s left?

A little background might be in order. In our state there is one company that offers individual medical insurance. One. At a glance it looks like there are others, but they are only for groups, individuals who get a federal subsidy credit, or for things like medicare supplements or very short term policies. So we went to the one company. They have a variety of plans and we do not have the cheapest one. Ours offers a no-copay annual exam, some preventive coverage, and has a deductible less than $1000. The cheapest plan would have cost us about $17,000 but would have had a $14,000 deductible and higher co-pays. We could have chosen that and saved some cash, but it did not a good financial risk for the savings.

We could have gone with out insurance. If you have had any medical servicees please take a look at your explanation of benefits and observe their cost. Not the amount you or your insurer paid, but the actual cost of service. For example, in our area a scheduled, non-emergency MRI costs $1911 plus the cost of the doctor who recommends it and the doctor that reads it. It adds up fast, and that’s just little diagnostic stuff, not an actual injury. Despite the fact that I have never been hospitalized or seriously ill, that I take no prescription medications, that I have never used my insurance for anything other than wellness and preventive care, I chose the responsible thing. I don’t have the right to share the other half’s medical history, but he is very healthy. Still, we decided not to risk financial ruin over a health issue. I can’t say how long we will be able to make that decision.

Just a bit more background. According to the South Carolina Department of Insurance in 2017 our insurer collected $2,254,056,331 in annual premiums. They covered 499,520 people. Their market share in health coverage is 68%. These numbers include medicare supplement plans, short-term plans, etc. Trust me, they are the only writer of individual comprehensive medical coverage here. I include these numbers because with such a large amount of premium coming from our state, we the people of South Carolina and our representatives should have a lot of influence on the company. Over 2 billion dollars a year paid to this company should buy us some consideration. Ironically, the opposite is true.

Stay with me. That’s the end of the numbers. What I want to share is this: we followed the rules. We behaved responsibly. Before venturing out as full time musicians we lived a very small, frugal life. We paid off all of our debts. We put away a small nest egg so that we might retire someday. We put aside enough to cover our deductibles and emergencies. We pay our premiums. We will continue to do so. We can live on what is left. It isn’t easy, but we can do it and be happy doing it. Really, this is happy dance time for us. For now. It is easier for us because we love our work, we are healthy, and because we have you out there cheering us on and feeding us and letting us do laundry. I cannot imagine how the average self-employed working family can cope. And it looks like it might get worse.

Please share this if you feel it will help start a meaning full conversation. Link to this blog or paste into wherever you paste things. Please feel free to use my name, tag me on social media. Please don’t shout at each other. We need to talk about this. I believe it starts with sharing our honest numbers, our real, personal stories. So I’ve shared my story. What’s yours? We need to talk about who we are as a nation and who we want to be going forward.

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