Monday, July 10, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

HAAM considers enrollment closure amid growing health care costs

A growing base of musician members needing health care services has officials with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians looking at possibly closing the program to new members later this year.

The nonprofit, which was founded 11 years ago, will discuss its current budget picture and capacity issues at Monday’s meeting of the Austin Music Commission in a move to raise awareness and begin discussions on new fundraising options. Currently HAAM provides health services and assists with insurance coverage for more than 2,400 musicians in the Austin area.

Reenie Collins, HAAM’s executive director, said there are another 2,000 musicians in the area who could be possibly covered by HAAM if they sought enrollment but the $2.1 million annual budget is close to being exhausted with the current roster of general health, dental and mental health services provided to members.

“We know there’s at least 2,000 more (musicians) we’re not working with who could use our help, but HAAM has done no active outreach in seven years because of concerns over not being able to handle the infusion of new members,” she said.

Collins said that there have already been stresses to the system, with a health insurance premium assistance program running out of money earlier this year, and members having to delay some dental services to later in the year when funding for dental care ran out in April.

Rather than making straight payments to providers for services rendered, HAAM negotiates discounts, donations and other arrangements with health care professionals in the Austin area. Collins said HAAM’s annual budget winds up leveraging almost $8 million in health care services for Austin musicians, who recent studies have found are increasingly financially strained.

While HAAM’s annual fundraising has doubled in the past four years and the group enjoys a high profile from events such as the citywide HAAM Benefit Day and the HAAM Corporate Battle of the Bands, Collins said a lack of public focus on its financial needs has affected giving outside of major events.

“Our success is proving to be our challenge, because musicians are coming to us and as more turn to us our funding has to keep up with the musician growth,” she said. “People know that we’re a great organization and do good work but we don’t always get the same kind of donations and funding throughout the year that we used to get.”

Monday’s discussion with the Music Commission is intended to spark discussion on new ways to fundraise, rather than seeking public dollars.

Keith Donahoe, HAAM’s board chair, said more corporate donations, grants and gifts from local philanthropists will be needed to increase the group’s annual budget and let it reach out to the local musicians still needing health care services.

“As we are now, if we took all of our members and all of them used all of the services available to them, we couldn’t afford that,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate because of the great reputation we’ve built and we have a good brand to protect, but it seems like we’re always moving from one (fundraising) event to the next to keep up. We haven’t stopped to talk with people about how we’re funded, and if the economy takes a hit then our events get less money right as we’d be needed even more by musicians.”

Collins and Donahoe stressed that HAAM is currently financially sound, with the funding concerns possibly causing a temporary closure on new enrollments. Such a closure would be the group’s first since 2009.

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