Workshops Underway for Massachusetts Health Care Reform Law

State Senator Brian Joyce calls Mitt Romney’s new Health Care Reform Law “landmark legislation that is serving as a national model.” It was passed ten months ago, but is just now being implemented across the state. The administration has anticipated a bit of confusion as we each go about hashing out the intricacies of making sure we’re covered to the state’s new standards. So the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts, and Cultural Development has teamed up with the Arts Health Care Coalition to hold free informational workshops, open to anyone, in which the process is explained.

Basically, the new law makes health care mandatory for every resident of Massachusetts. By December 31st of this year, everyone must be able to provide proof of health insurance that meets the state’s standards. If you’re already insured, you will need to make sure your plan is up to par. If you’re not, there is health care available to you through the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector. Go to the state’s Web site and you’ll see that discounts and even free coverage could be available. Employers can find insurance through the Insurance Partnership.

The involvement of the Joint Committee, the Arts Health Care Coalition, and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) focuses on the artist’s relationship to the new law. “With these workshops we hope to create an opportunity to educate the arts community,” said State Representative Eric Turkington, “as well as to learn how this law affects people.” The Health Care Reform Law could exert a strain on the self-employed artist, through the unexpected cost of providing health insurance for oneself, for one’s family, and in rare instances for a small group of dependent employees. Many artists opt to manage their own medical expenses in alternative ways—either by paying for expenses as they come, or by storing away modest amounts of money each month. The MCC is working to assuage these financial difficulties.

We heard from Jason Schupbach, the director of ArtistLink, about some of the more common concerns expressed at recent workshops, which took place on Cape Cod and in Lowell. “It’s no secret that health care costs are high,” he said, “especially if you have no employer to help you shoulder the burden. So having the experts there to answer those detailed, individual questions has been very helpful.” Such experts include representatives from Health Care for All, the Connector Board, and Insurance Partnership.

On the same Web site that explains the new law, the process that a full-time artist should undergo to find suitable insurance is detailed:

You can purchase health insurance through the new Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector. Depending on your income, you will be able to get free insurance, subsidized insurance or pay lower premium rates. To qualify for free or subsidized health insurance your income will be verified through your most recent tax return. (There may be additional eligibility requirements.)

The lower premiums are achieved in the new law by combining all uninsured individuals into a large purchasing group. Depending on your income, individuals purchasing insurance through the Connector will pay lower premiums (approximately 25% less) from current rates.

The next workshop will be on February 28th in Worcester, at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. On March 3rd, the workshop will be held in Stockbridge at the Unicorn Theatre. On March 7th it’s in Lynn, at Lynn Arts. And on March 28th it’s in New Bedford at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Boston has yet to be announced.

Attendance at the workshops has been relatively small so far (30 and 45 people), but administrators are optimistic. “We hope that as we move along, more people will have read about the sessions beforehand, and the turnout will increase,” said Schupbach.