Robin Priestley has been running her own arts business, called Painted Turtle, for ten years. She creates collages and jewelry and has recently started making pottery. Even in the best of times, Priestley's artistic pursuits account for only about a fourth of her income. To make ends meet, she's starting her own freelance consulting office with a friend. Like any small business owner, she has to pay for her own health care.
"There just aren't a lot options out there. There's one or two companies that offer policies that you can buy into and that's about it that I've been able to find," she says.
Priestley says she doesn't qualify for Minnesota Care or other statewide assistance. She's looked at buying into group policies, but they require more coverage than she needs, so she wouldn't save any money. Her bare-bones policy plus her allergy medications cost her between $6,000 and $7,000 a year. That's close to 20 percent of her income.
Priestley says the price of her policy is actually an obstacle to seeking preventive care. She worries that if she visits the doctor too many times, it will raise her rates, or she might even be dropped by her insurance company.
So she chooses not to visit the doctor for certain things: "Things like just going for a regular check-up when it really isn't necessary, I don't need a prescription filled or I'm not feeling badly. Then I just say, 'You know what? That's got to wait because it isn't important at this point in time.' And things like annual visits for mammograms I've put off, I've skipped this year until I get this situation under control," Priestley says.
Priestley doesn't expect special treatment because she's an artist. She's just looking for affordable health care.
NIP Community Clinic receptionist Emily Serafy Cox knows first-hand the difficulties of finding health care for artists. Not only does she talk to artists all day setting up appointments and payment plans; Cox herself is a dancer.
"All of my friends who are dancers...many, many of them come here," she says.
Serafy Cox is lucky. She has affordable health insurance through her job at the clinic. But she says most of her fellow dancers are uninsured. A typical office visit at the NIP Clinic might cost anywhere from $55 to $125. Cox says that's far less than most other health care providers charge.
"We are fabulous for the people who find us. For the people who don't find us, there's an impression that they don't have any options, because they call a doctor and the doctor will say, 'That will be $700,' whereas it's a very different story if they call us," Serafy Cox says.
The new program announced last week aims to put artists in touch with the NIP Clinic. Qualifying artists will receive $40 vouchers toward the cost of an office visit. NIP's partner in the program is Springboard for the Arts, a training and resource center for artists. Executive Director Laura Zabel says she's optimistic the effort may eventually expand beyond the NIP clinic:
"I think it could lead to an artist health care network where's there's a whole network of clinics and physicians and dentists and mental health care providers that are interested in serving artists that might sign on to a program like this," Zabel says.
The new health voucher project for artists, called Artists' Access to Healthcare, is in its pilot phase. NIP Community Clinic and Springboard for the Arts have split the cost of the first 50 vouchers. Zabel says funders have already shown an interest in keeping the program afloat. Zabel says it may not be as effective a cure as universal health care, but for those artists who need to see a doctor right now, it's a pretty good band-aid.