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HAAM seeks $1M from city to provide health care for musicians

Monday, May 16, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians is seeking $1 million from the city to help maintain health care coverage for 3,000 local musicians and cover an additional 1,000 who qualify for assistance from the nonprofit.

During a presentation at last week’s meeting of City Council’s Public Health Committee, HAAM CEO Paul Scott said his group typically has to withdraw up to $500,000 annually from its reserves to continue to provide assistance with health insurance premiums for its members. The $1 million ask would provide $800,000 to cover a funding gap for existing members, while the other $200,000 would allow for enrollment of the roughly 1,000 musicians in the Austin area who could receive coverage from HAAM.

Scott said most of HAAM’s members earn from $25,000 to $50,000 per year, and face challenges with stable housing, food insecurity and mental health, which are all major determinants of poor health. With approximately 8,000 musicians living in the area, there is significant concern brewing as musicians tend to have a life expectancy that is 25 years less than the average population.

“They work hard and live hard and are adversely impacted by social determinants of health,” he said. “Our musicians are an iconic subculture at the heart of our cultural identity here in Austin and they are responsible for much of our economic and overall success.”

Since realigning its service model in 2015, HAAM has seen a 53 percent increase in enrollment, which has put much larger financial demands on the organization.

Scott said he has spoken with Assistant City Manager Stephanie Hayden-Howard about how HAAM could generate additional income by applying for public health contract requests for proposal that fit with its service offerings.

Beyond that possible contract income, the group is looking for an allocation in the next city budget to cover what remains of the $1 million request.

“We’d like to enter into a conversation with the city to see how we can continue to invest in our musicians and their health care as we leverage the health care dollars available through the work we are doing. We’d like to see about a referral to the city manager’s office or a budget resolution for funds.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen said she would be willing to connect Scott and HAAM leaders to the administrators of TexHealth Central Texas, which provides coverage subsidies for small businesses, which some artists working in musical groups could qualify for.

“I’m not suggesting that as a substitute for what you’re asking for from the city, but I’m just saying they may have some dollars available since what they do is subsidy assistance and they’re not bound by the (Affordable Care Act).”

Mayor Steve Adler also offered his help in connecting HAAM to other organizations and potential donors who may want to get involved in fundraising for the group, calling its work essential for the city’s live music ecosystem.

“One of the reasons why we can legitimately claim the moniker of the Live Music Capital is in part because of your organization and SIMS (Foundation), because we provide as a community the infrastructure for musicians that just doesn’t exist in other cities,” he said. “The reach and expansion you’ve done since 2015 is incredible and lifesaving and I know there are people from around the country that are always coming to Austin trying to figure out how to make their music industries work … the very first thing I talk about is HAAM, which is not what they expect.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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