I Don’t Feel Well: A Teaching Artist’s Journey Through Healthcare
By Katie Rainey
“What’s wrong? Your tummy hurt?”
I crouch down to her level, kneeling to meet her eye to eye.
“My throat is scratchy.”
There are students all around, drawing, jumping, playing, burning off pent-up energy from a long day at school. I’m trying to maintain some sense of classroom in this after-school program – a visual arts and story residency for kindergartners that falls after their required 9+ hours of common core and state standards learning – when one smallish girl with pigtails and a Frozen shirt tugs on my arm and tells me she feels ill. Most of the time, TAs know these words are likely a red herring; that when a student whispers I feel sick it’s really because they had their feelings hurt, or they’re frustrated in their art-making, or they want some additional attention from a busy teacher stretched thin across a class of 25+. So I kneel on our brightly colored story-time carpet and see if I nip this problem in the bud.
“Your throat is scratchy?”
“Okay, go get a drink of water with your buddy.”
“I’m stuffy too.”
“Well, class will be over soon and your mommy will be here to make it better. Let’s try coloring for a whi-”
And then it happens. Before I can finish my sentence, this girl’s shoulders raise and her face scrunches up and she lets loose a cough so loud, I swear there’s an adult man living inside her. There’s no time to duck and her wet cough lands square in my mouth, spackling my face. I swallow any urge to gag and spit.
“Sorry,” she says, and coughs again.
“Go get water,” I manage, and then turn to the classroom sanitizer dispenser and douse my hands in sterile slime, rubbing some on my chin and cheeks just for good measure, but it is all in vain and I know it too.
It is 2014, I am 28-years-old (too old to continue creeping by on my parents’ insurance), and have recently been forcefully egressed from my MFA program’s student healthcare plan. I’m just finding my footing as a teaching artist in this city, so the last thing on my mind is healthcare. Food and shelter are more prominent priorities. Finding gigs is more prominent. Even navigating the labyrinthine world of teaching artist taxes is more mentally preponderant than healthcare. That is until this moment, when a tiny tot in pigtails coughs into my mouth and – already – I feel the insidious bubbles of flu season percolating within me.
And what I expected to happen did. Three days later, it’s full-blown flu season in my apartment and I don’t have health insurance. A friend recommends that I visit CityMD as they’ll see me without insurance, and I do, and I spend several hours waiting for a doctor to not make eye contact with me, scribble something on a pad, and rush me out the door to make room for the next insurance-less soul stepping in. A few hours later, I’m cocooned in a nest of blankets, taking sips of doctor-prescribed codeine cough syrup and garlic soup. It’s not the best remedy, but it’ll do in the absence of real doctor care. After a week of ups and downs – attempting to teach all the while, because we TAs know what a struggle it can be to miss even one class – I kick the flu away and am back to my old self.
And then the mail arrives.
CityMD sends me a crisp $200+ bill for some half-doctoring and a nostrum. Well, I could have just spent that money on insurance and seen a real doctor for all that trouble.
So I decide to do just that.
Katie (M.K.) Rainey is a writer, teaching artist, and editor from Little Rock, Arkansas. She is the Managing Director for Training & Communications at Community-Word Project and a current member of the Teaching Artist Affairs Committee. She is the winner of the 2017 Bechtel Prize at Teachers & Writers Magazine and the 2017 Lazuli Literary Group Writing Contest. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Teaching Artist Guild Magazine, Atticus Review, Fiction Southeast, and more. She co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series and lives in Harlem with her dog.
Artists in the United States are twice as likely to be uninsured as the general population (“Health Insurance Is Still a Work-In-Progress for Artists and Performers” by Renata Marinaro). That’s not a surprising fact and, based on my experience in the field of teaching artistry, I can guess those numbers run higher for teaching artists. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has helped to change that significantly.
For me, the process was relatively easy. I visited the NY State of Health and created an account. From there I was able to choose between a variety of plans – from the lowest-priced catastrophic plans to the Gold/Platinum/Premium/Who-can-afford-this? plans. I settled for something in between, but more towards the low-end because I’m a working teaching artist and, duh. Because of my income status, I was able to apply for a subsidy on the plan, which helped my budget (be aware that if your income increases during the year, you might end up owing that subsidy back). There are monthly auto-payments you can set up and reminders to help you stay on track. There are dental and vision additions you can make and the customer service is very fluid and helpful. In the spring, you’ll receive a 1095-A from your insurance company and mark that deduction along with all of your other fiscal accouterments that come with the territory of teaching artistry.
It is so important that we artists value our healthcare and take care of ourselves. It should be a priority for all teaching artists, even if you think you’re an invincible twenty-something who never gets sick. We work in schools, where we’re exposed to more germs than the average person. We have to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to care for the students we serve.
But what about now? What challenges do we face under the current administration and what can we do to make sure our healthcare rights are safe? What will open enrollment look like this year? What is the $20 plan and am I eligible?
The Teaching Artist Affairs Committee of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable) is looking to answer all of those questions and more in a webinar on health insurance for teaching artists co-hosted by The Actor’s Fund. Join us on November 17th for a livestream webinar and get the most out of the Affordable Care Act this year. Can’t make the livestream? Don’t worry. Put your ACA questions in the comments below and we’ll make sure they get answered. Then check back and we’ll have the whole presentation archived for your to watch whenever your schedule allows.
Every Teaching Artist Insured!
Friday, November 17th 2:30pm-4:00pm, livestream
Every Teaching Artist Insured is a free live stream presentation for teaching artists, freelance artists, and arts administrators who do not have insurance through an employer or union. This one hour presentation will provide clear information on how to sign up for a health insurance plan through the New York State of Health Marketplace (Obamacare), and information on local, low cost healthcare options for New York City residents.
Facilitated by Renata Marinaro, National Director of Health Services for The Actor’s Fund, this livestream presentation will equip you with the tools you need to get medical services as a freelancer. Topics will include:
- How do I enroll for ACA (Obamacare) insurance?
- How do I report sporadic or self-employed income?
- What are my options in 2018?
- Straight-talk about changes in ACA, executive orders, and how they may affect you.
- Am I eligible for Medicaid or subsidized insurance?
- Am I eligible for a $20 plan?
- Where do I get care if I’m uninsured?