No Health Insurance? There’s Hope…

Volume CV, No. 5May, 2005

If you’re a jazz or freelance musician and you need health insurance, help is available! But you have to take the time to visit the union and find out how you can access these benefits. A March 28 seminar on union health and pension benefits for jazz and other freelance musicians drew about 50 musicians to Local 802’s Club Room. The program was hosted by Local 802 and the Jazz Foundation of America.

The first part of the program focused on the health care options available to musicians working on a freelance basis. On hand were Gloria McCormick, administrator of the Local 802 Health Benefits Plan; James Brown from the Actors’ Fund of America; Wendy Oxenhorn, executive director of the Jazz Foundation of America; Dr. Frank Forte from Englewood Hospital; and Dee Dee Acquisto, director of health and human services for Musicares.

McCormick described the health insurance coverage that is offered by Local 802 and paid for through employer contributions required under the terms of various union agreements. She and Recording Vice President Bill Dennison described the various types of contracts that now make such employer contributions more and more possible in the freelance field.

  • James Brown from the Actors’ Fund explained the coverage and the relative cost of insurance available through private insurers, through various associations such as Working Today’s Freelancers Union and through income-based plans such as the state-subsidized Healthy New York and Family Health Plus insurance plans. The Actors’ Fund maintains a Web site called the Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center that explains the available plans and how to apply. (Visit for more information.)
  • Wendy Oxenhorn and Dr. Forte described the work of the Jazz Foundation in providing health care services for older jazz artists who have no other options. Dr. Forte’s connection to the Jazz Foundation began more than a decade ago when he became Dizzy Gillespie’s oncologist at Englewood Hospital. That relationship developed into an ongoing commitment from Englewood Hospital and many of its doctors to volunteer their services and facilities to fill the health care needs of jazz artists. For more information, see
  • Musicares was established by the Recording Academy in 1989 and since then has been providing emergency financial assistance to musicians. You can find out more at
  • The pension part of the seminar was moderated by Jimmy Owens, chair of the union’s Jazz Advisory Committee. The first panelist, Maureen Kilkelly, administrator of the AFM pension plan, described a healthy and growing pension fund whose assets currently total more than $1.7 billion. She described the vesting process, a period of time (typically five years) during which a minimal level of pension contributions are required. Once vested, a musician is guaranteed a pension upon retirement age. Kilkelly also described the pension payout rates and the various retirement options.

Musicians Bob Cranshaw and Steven Bernstein spoke about their experiences with the Pension Fund. Cranshaw is currently a pensioner and has been tireless in urging younger jazz artists to take advantage of the pension fund. Bernstein is a younger musicians who is doing just that. He became incorporated several years ago, became vested in the fund and has been making sure that compensation for his work includes a pension contribution.

Bill Dennison described the kinds of union agreements that are available to those working in the jazz and freelance music fields and urged those in attendance to learn more about how these contracts might be utilized in their specific work situations.

If you would like additional information about any of the issues covered in the seminar, call the Recording Vice President’s office or Jazz Department at (212) 245-4802, ext. 110 or ext. 157.


Forty-five million Americans have no health insurance, including more than eight million children. Now in its third year, “Cover the Uninsured Week” is the largest nonpartisan mobilization in history on the issue of the uninsured. Hundreds of thousands of individuals from every sector of society will participate May 1-8 in community service and education events, including health and enrollment fairs, business seminars, campus activities, and faith-based meetings.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation sponsors the week.

The number of uninsured in New York has reached 2,866,000, and New Yorkers are encouraged to participate in local events to support this year’s effort. Those interested in getting involved within the New York City area should contact Richie Fife at (212) 787-5771. Those living in other regions of New York should contact Barbara Preston at (202) 572-2915.

For more information, visit