Health Insurance and Health Care Resources for the Under-Insured or Uninsured Artist

Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Feature Articles, Freelance Corner | No Comments

Update: A second edition to our guide was written after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

To put it simply, finding decent and affordable health care as an artist can be an uphill battle.   Jobs that provide it to you are scarce, and even when they do, it can be short-lived (due to the freelance nature of our industry) or not fully or comprehensively funded.   The following is a list of health insurance and health care resources that Patricia Burgess and I have put together for your use.  It’s by no means a comprehensive list and will be updated and added to from time to time.  If you have a listing to add here, please contact us.

Actor’s Fund – The Actors Fund is a wonderful non-profit organization that provides care and services to thousands of performing artists and entertainment professionals each year.  They offer a vast array of social, financial, housing, healthcare and work services to the community.  Among their healthcare services, you’ll find the  Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, which provides free health care to uninsured and underinsured documented entertainment industry professionals between the ages of 18 to 64.  They will also provide referrals to low-cost specialists and practitioners.  They offer free mammograms and free flu shots every year.  The staff at the Actor’s Fund are knowledgeable and friendly.

The Actor’s Fund also operates the extremely comprehensive database of health care resources, The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center.  Each state is thoroughly covered and the site contains a wealth of information regarding health insurance.  If you are going to start anywhere in your search, start here by clicking on your state.

Freelancers Union   – The Freelancers Union is an organization dedicated to the needs of independent workers.  They provide health insurance and retirement options, as well as education and advocacy for the independent sector.  Membership to the organization itself is free.  The union operates as a health insurance carrier and uses Anthem’s Blue Card PPO network of doctors and hospitals.  Plans range from $200 – $600, and offer varying levels of deductibles and other coverage.  There are a number of qualifications to be eligible for coverage through the Freelancer’s Union, so be sure to go over all the options and eligibility rules carefully.

In 2014, The Freelancer’s Union will begin offering a new nonprofit, member-driven health insurance option. These Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans (CO-OPs) are funded in part by federal loans from the health care reform law.  There’s not much more information on this option, but to learn more, click here:

Media Bistro – Media Bistro is an organization made up of creative and non-creative professionals in the content/creative industry. They provide opportunities to meet, share resources, become informed of job opportunities and interesting projects and news, improve career skills, and showcase your work.  Media Bistro offers an AvantGuild membership, through which you can qualify to receive health insurance benefits.  To learn more, click here:

Healthy NY  – Gone are the days when Healthy NY was a viable option for the recently unemployed or self-employed individual.  Effective January 1, 2012, applicants for Healthy NY coverage can only enroll in the High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP).  Current enrollees are unaffected by this restriction.  For more information on the high deductible plan, click here:

Graphic Artists Guild –  The Graphic Artists Guild is a wonderful organization that actively works to protect and promote the social, economic, and professional interests of all artists.  The Guild offers both health and dental insurance.  For more info, click here:

Teigit –  The Entertainment Industry Group Insurance Trust (TEIGIT) administers health insurance plans to the arts and entertainment community.  It’s offered in nine states, including NY and CA.  If you are a freelancer, you are a Sole Proprietor already, which would qualify you to obtain insurance through Teigit.

Community Healthcare Network  – The Community Healthcare Network has a number of clinics around the Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. They offer a wide range of services, including access to low-cost mental health services. They accept the uninsured on a sliding scale, with office visits ranging from $40-$200 for the cost of the visit itself, with any services performed during the visit costing extra. When you go, they will ask that you bring proof of income (paystub, or some sort of bank account statement, etc) in order to determine how much to charge you on the scale. They will treat you regardless of your ability to pay, and are willing to work out long-term payment plans.

New York City Free Clinic (@NYU )  – from what I can find, the only truly ‘free’ full-service clinic in NYC. The free clinic is only open Saturdays from 9am-1pm, and there is a series of bureaucratic hoops you must jump through to get an appointment ( In order to have access to free medical care, you must first go into the Institute for Family Health (attached to the clinic) at 16 East 16th street. At the front desk, ask to see a social worker about your eligibility for the free clinic and low-cost medical care. They will ask you to wait, and then eventually you will be brought into a small office and see a social worker. They will ask you various questions about your income (a good time to have proof of income is here – however they do not require it), your concerns, why you are visiting, etc. They will not only check if you are eligible for the clinic, but for public health insurance options like Medicare, etc.

If you quality for free clinic visits, you will be led over to the receptionist for the free clinic who will set up your first appointment. If you are lucky it will be for the following Saturday, but more than likely it will be for the Saturday after. You will have two free visits available to you over the course of a calendar year. The financial screening will also give you access to walk-in clinic at the Institute for Family Health on a sliding scale. An appointment at the IFH starts at $145, but with the sliding scale it can be as low as half that cost. This is especially helpful if you end up getting caught with something you can’t wait the 1-2 weeks on the free clinic to see a doctor for.

I want to take a moment here to mention that the free clinic is staffed mostly by student doctors, who are watched over by professionals. This is why it is free. Personally my experience was wonderful, I mention it merely in the interests of full disclosure.

The NYC Free clinic also offers referrals to all different types of specialists for free, as long as it is tied to a free clinic appointment. It is also important to note they offer mental health referrals to low-cost or even free medical care – for example, I qualified for 8 free appointments with a fully qualified mental health counselor. This is increasingly important as freelancers often have to suffer through long bouts of unemployment which can lead to increased rates of depression, anxiety and other issues. Not only do we need to keep an eye on our physical health, but it is far too easy for us to neglect our mental well-being.

Ryan Network  – similar to the Community Healthcare Network, they offer low-cost and sliding scale healthcare to the uninsured. I can’t speak to how they work or their procedures, but they were recommended to me during my health care search.

Callen-Lorde Community Health Center  – also similar to the Community Healthcare & Ryan Networks, Callen-Lorde offers low-cost & sliding scale healthcare regardless of ability to pay. What distinguishes this center apart from the others is that it seeks to reach out specifically to gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual community. However, this center is open to and can treat people of all sexualities.

NYU College of Dentistry  – Dental issues are also important to get sorted out – prolonged dental issues can lead to health issues elsewhere in the body, as well as drop comfort levels and quality of life substantially. The NYU College of Dentistry offers access to low-cost dental care through their clinic. It should be noted, once again, these are student dentists – I have heard both good and bad things about this clinic. You get paired with a dental student who acts as your dentist throughout multiple visits, and it seems the quality of your experience is entirely dependent on the quality of student you get assigned. I personally had a good experience there and would recommend it.

Warby Parker  – Need prescription glasses? Warby Parker can get you those for $95.  They are very stylish and well-made.  You buy them online but they have showrooms in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as a few states throughout the country, where you can make an apt to try them on.  Staff is friendly and helpful.  You can also order about 5 pair at a time to try on at home first.  I have glasses from here and I couldn’t be happier.  Highly, highly recommended!