Ask Jesse the Artist

Instead of focusing on Joe the Plumber and his tax phobia’s, perhaps the presidential candidates should talk to Jesse the Artist and ask him or her about health insurance.  On Sunday, October 19th, I visited the Bethesda Row Arts Festival in Bethesda, Maryland.  I did just that.  In a very unscientific survey, I talked to a number of the artists about their health insurance.  

Why should anyone else be interested in artists?  Because they are small business people.  They are also very creative.  It is this creative entrepreneurship of small businesses that candidates like to support because it is the economic engine  that drives the American economy.

Artists as Small Businesses

I was curious whether health insurance was a barrier to entry for these artists.  Two of the artist referred to a study (but could not name the source) that 83% of artists had health insurance.  That was consistent with my own unscientific study. I talked to close to 20 people.  Only three had no health insurance.  But, on the other hand, only three paid for their own health insurance.

Perhaps they asked the wrong question.

How did the others get their insurance?   Two reminded me just how careless my methodology was.  Each artist’s booth had a sign on the outside identifying the artist and where they were from.  On two occasions I was drawn into the booth by the art work.  So when I popped my question about health insurance, I hadn’t noticed the sign that indicated they were from Canada.  They thought it a rather silly question.

The others fell primarily into three categories.  They were retired and were among the few very retirees with employer based health insurance.  They had spouses that worked and carried the artist on the employer coverage.  They were veterans with coverage with the Veterans’ Administration (VA).

One person was a dependent on his ex-wife’s employment based plan – something that most plans (and the tax rules) do not allow.  But in addition, he had VA coverage and was a few months away from turning 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare.

Almost all agreed that it was an issue that they took very seriously.  One of the artists who had his insurance from his employer’s retiree health plan, admitted that he was fortunate.  He also confessed to paying for health insurance for two of his children, one was unemployed and the other was starting a small business.

These Artists as Atypical Small Businesses

Although this small sample is instructive, it likely does not represent either artists or small businesses.  It is mostly successful artists who exhibit at shows like this because they know they can sell their work.  To what extent did good health and/or good health insurance allow them to advance their careers?  

Two of the people who admitted to buying their health insurance also conceded that they only recently have been able to afford it.  I remarked to one that she was fortunate that she had no serious health issues.  “No,” she said, “that’s another story.”   Several of the artists reminded me that artists frequently work with materials that are toxic making health insurance even more important.

But unlike other small businesses, artists rarely compete on price.  If they did, those who paid for their health insurance would be at competitive disadvantage.

Support and Encourage Small Business

Small businesses provide the creative energy and initiative that drives the economy forward.  Now, when the economy is in the tank, is the time to rejuvenate the economy by providing affordable, easily accessible health insurance to all Americans.  Let the entrepreneurs bloom!  Artists won’t be the only ones to benefit.


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