Every time an R&B diva has to stop her concert tour for exhaustion, every time Lil Wayne suffered seizures from drinking sizzurp, all most fans thought about was missing out on the show or waiting for a tweet to see what happened. But not Anton Gunn. He’s thinking about hospital bills, and how those bills get paid. Specifically health insurance bills. As Director of External Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services his main job over the last two years has been to go around the country and talk about what the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare for most folks) has to offer. In particular Gunn has been taking the message of the new ACA law to the Hip-Hop community, because he knows that a rapper’s or singer’s career is only as good as their health.
“Hip-Hop is what I am, healthcare is what I do” says Gunn, who I spoke to from his offices in Washington D.C. “I went to highschool in Hampton Roads, Virginia. I went to high-school with half of the Neptunes. I know Timbaland, and I went to middle school with Magoo.”
His whole life he’s been kicking it with DJs and beatmakers and he knows what the business is like inside and out. In October Anton Gunn spoke at the Future of Music Coalition Annual Conference and he has a particular message about the Affordable Care Act for Hip-Hop. “…Until you get that record contract health insurance is something that is not generally in your conversation,” he said. “And even if you DO get that contract you’re a contract employee of the label and contract employees usually don’t get provided benefits like health insurance and other things.” His point is that across the board, whether you’re an rapper, a DJ, a dancer, even an actor or producer, most people aren’t getting healthcare out there but you need it if your mind and your body are going to perform at the top of their game.
“There are many artists that are uninsured or have pre-existing conditions. We all know J Dilla that passed away had Lupus, Phife from a Tribe Called Quest has type 1 diabetes and has had that all his life,” he says before running through a list of hip-hop stars with pre-existing conditions and chronic ilnnesses that make medical care crucial to their success. But what about those folks out there that are young and healthy. Why do they need to bother with signing up for healthcare?
“We all know things happen every single day. You might be playing pick-up basketball game and break your arm, or break an ankle or break a leg that can cost you $7,500,” he says. He also points out that you could be on tour, and you pass out, suffer from exhaustion, or even fall off the stage. A three day stay in the hospital can cost you $30,000 out of pocket if you don’t have any coverage, on TOP of what you lose from missing tour dates. Most artists don’t have $30,000 laying around to pay for a hospital stay when you’re on tour only making $500.00 show still trying to get that record deal. In other words, if you’re an up and coming artist on the road bringing in $500-$1,000 a show you can’t afford to NOT have health insurance.
“Every DJ I know that DJs off their laptop has insurance on their laptop…..people have insurance on their smartphone in case something happens to protect that investment. Why don’t you have insurance on your body? Your body is the most important instrument you have,” he says.
It’s easy to understand why health insurance through the Affordable Care Act is helpful but cash rules everything when you’re out there as a starving artist. How much does all of this new coverage cost most people?
“We did a study at the department that says six in 10 could have a healthcare bill of less than $100.00 a month. That’s cheaper than a cellphone bill,” points out the director. And if you are that DJ out there, or singer on tour making little or no money there are government subsidies out there to make healthcare even cheaper or sometimes free.
The deadline to get coverage on January 1st 2014 is December 15th and then the second wave of sign –ups ends on March 31st of 2014. So there’s plenty of time. But let’s say you are signed up to get healthcare starting on January 1st of 2014, what is the minimum you would get with your coverage? “You get 10 basic benefits from every healthcare plan now,” says Gunn excitedly. “It has to cover hospitalizations, outpatient coverage, maternity, substance abuse and mental health….and several other services that used to come extra with health coverage.”
There are three basic ways to sign up under the Affordable Care Act, the first is to just go to www.healthcare.gov and sign up for a plan. If you’re travelling on tour or don’t have time to go online you can call 1-800-318-2596, 24 hours a day 7 days a week and they’ll walk you through the whole process and sign you up. Finally if you want to sit down with someone in your local area and get walked through the process, plenty of organizations, like Churches, La Raza and the Urban League are willing to help and it’s all free, check out https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/.
Getting sick, having to take a couple days off tour or the road for a hospital stay without insurance is fine if you’re bringing in Drake money or Lil Wayne money. But honestly why should anyone put themselves through that kind of trouble? “I’m passionate about this,” says Gunn. “Because this is the community I come from. It’s a new day, no matter who you are, where you live, you can’t be discriminated against, you can get affordable healthcare.” So if you’re out there trying to make things happen, or know someone who is, sign up for the Affordable Care Act. There’s no way you can make your dreams come true if suddenly you’re too sick to get out of the bed.
Written By Dr. Jason Johnson, Politics Editor The Source Magazine