Feeling Healthy?

Why musicians need health care reform now

Volume CIX, No. 9September, 2009

David J. Hahn

In 2006, I was diagnosed with cancer when a large tumor was discovered in my chest.

I remember my initial surgery following the discovery of the tumor. I had researched what the surgery would likely cost and discovered that the surgery room would cost $15,000 for the first 15 minutes, and $8,000 for every 15 minutes thereafter. I remember awakening from the surgery and asking the nurse, “How long was I in there?”

“31 minutes,” she said.

I thought, “$25k? $30k? Do they round up?”

I should have been worried about my health, about the incision 3 inches from my heart, or about the chemo port that had been implanted in my chest and connected to my aorta. I should have been asking for my family, or resting. But I was much more concerned about how on earth I was ever going to be able to afford to stay alive.

I continued playing piano through the six months of chemotherapy. By the end, the treatments made it more and more difficult, but I kept playing. The pride and joy I find in working as a musician informed my fight to life.

In the end, cancer cost well over $300,000. Luckily, while I was significantly under-insured, I was not totally uninsured. I had, and still have, a catastrophic health insurance policy from Blue Cross/Blue Shield that covers, among other catastrophes, chemotherapy. It did not, however, cover the seven doctors involved in my diagnosis, the 31-minute surgery, drugs considered “optional” to the treatment, or any exploratory or preventative care following the end of chemotherapy.

I stopped scheduling check-ups after the insurance ran out. The $5,000 scans, $300 blood tests and $120 doctor visits are just too expensive. I applied for better health insurance – ready to pay whatever outrageous fee it required – but (not surprisingly) I was denied.

Too many great artists in this country spend too much time worrying about what will happen if they break a leg, catch the flu, or, like me, develop cancer. And when something awful does happen, the health care industry uses it as a business opportunity, recycling their extortionate fees as marketing and branding instead of actual care for human beings.

We have an unprecedented opportunity to change health care in the U.S. right now. We have a president that has made health care reform a priority and this summer’s judgment by the Minnesota Supreme Court to instate Al Franken as a U.S. Senator gives a majority to that part of congress that seems most sympathetic to health care reform.

The voice of musicians should be heard in this debate. We could leave it all up to our union, but we’ll have more of an impact overall if we all make some phone calls ourselves. We could start with our senators – here are their phone numbers:

  • New York: Charles Schumer, (202) 224-6542; Kirsten Gillibrand, (202) 224-4451.
  • New Jersey: Frank Lautenberg, (202) 224-3224; Robert Menendez, (202) 224-4744.
  • Connecticut: Christopher Dodd, (202) 224-2823; Joseph Lieberman, (202) 224-4041.

Let’s call them and start the discussion. It is their job to represent our concerns in our government – and it’s our job to tell them just what those concerns are.

Also, let’s start this discussion among ourselves. We can bring it up after rehearsal, when we’re out for a drink, we can blog it, Facebook it, tweet it, or write it on parchment paper, tape it to a carrier pigeon and throw it out a window – we have to find some way to get our needs acknowledged.

David J. Hahn is a member of Local 802.