By Rebecca Perkins
When you graduate from Berklee, how are you going to get health insurance? This is a question I have asked myself since I started school here 6 semesters ago. I had been out of college for nearly 2 years and had been living without medical insurance, paying for prescriptions out of pocket, and relying on extended refills to avoid doctor visits. I had been afraid to go snowboarding with my girlfriend’s family in Australia because I knew if I were injured it could ruin my financial future. In fact, I thought about it every time I got in my car or rode my bike to the store.
So having health insurance through Berklee now is such a relief, but I know, that in no time at all, I will be out of school, too old to be covered under my parents’ plan and left to figure this out for myself.
For those of us who want to make a living performing, or teaching privately, or in any realm other than working a full time job, our options are extremely limited. Granted, the public option in Massachusetts, Masshealth, is well within reach, but many of us won’t be staying here after we graduate. So when we think about what we want to do with our lives, we have to first think about how we are going to get health insurance.
This really changes what Berklee can offer in terms of real world prospects for its students. No matter how good your jazz chops are, or how amazing you are with Protools, Berklee is in the position of either encouraging students to give up their dreams of performing, teaching, or building their own studios in order to get a job that might provide them with insurance, or they are encouraging students to go without. It is as simple as that. For those of us who are planning on getting a full time position that offers benefits, we better have it lined up before we graduate. In this economy, it could take 6 months, a year, or longer to find such a coveted position. What will we do to cover our health costs in the interim?
While working as an assistant to professor Mark Simos in the 5-week program this summer, I chatted with visiting artist Melissa Ferrick. She said she had a toothache, but was avoiding going to the dentist because she didn’t have dental insurance. This is the first question we need to be asking every visiting artist. How do you pay for your medical bills? How do you get medical insurance? These are questions we need to pose to our professors who undoubtedly have had to make tough choices around this as career musicians. It is especially an important question for us to ask our part-time associate professors whose benefits may only be provided if they teach a certain number of hours.
American culture is supposed to foster innovation, creativity and free choice. But the way our current healthcare system is set up doesn’t leave us with many options. The healthcare debate in this country should be on all of our minds as musicians.