The numbers are staggering. Three out four people involved in the music industry do not have access to group benefits, including health insurance. And even if one does have health insurance, there are financial pressures that arise.
Tatum Hauck Allsep knows this all too well. The longtime music executive – who spent six years promoting records for MCA Nashville – had insurance when she gave birth to twins. And yet it proved not to be enough.
"I was in the hospital six weeks, and they were in there for nine. I left the hospital with a half a million-dollar bill," she recalls to Billboard. "I had gone to college. I had run my own business. I had health insurance – and a maternity rider – but the policy I had included all these internal limitations. I was so prideful and afraid, and thought that I had done something wrong because 'this is a system. You get a bill – and you pay it.' I liquidated every asset that I had. I co-signed a loan with my grandfather to pay down the bills. It took ten years to pay everything f. I didn't talk about it, but I started to hear other people's stories, and mine wasn't unique. But, I also started learning how to navigate the system. I went to Vanderbilt to help build a music industry program there. I then started to learn about insurance, and the fact that everything can be negotiated."
As time went on, Allsep decided that her story was not an isolated one, and she wanted to be an advocate for others who might be in the same position.
"My husband knew that this was such a passion, and I was so fueled by it. He said 'Look, you've got to do this. Let's cash in the 401k. You can't fail, and you've got to do this. Let's just do it.'"
What she and others have done was to organize Music Health Alliance, an organization that since 2013 has served over 8,600 members the music community nationwide, and has saved over $33 million dollars in healthcare costs – including insurance premium savings, medical bill reductions and discounted medications. Five years later, she takes pride in the services that Music Health Alliance has been able to fer.
"To see that it started five years ago – with just one client – and now we have 8,600 clients across the nation. It's not just one story, but thirty-three million dollars in stories people whose lives have been changed and impacted because we're just doing what's right. I can't even begin to articulate that feeling, but I am still fueled by the injustice the system. This is the 'Land the Free,' and we, as self-employed individuals and independent contractors, are shackled by access to health care. Something is so wrong with that. It's not what the Hippocratic oath says. It's not what they promise to do, so for us – and for me – that impact continues to fuel the fire that we have to keep doing this until there is no work for us to do anymore. But, on a personal level, I am just so grateful that we can do this."
Allsep is fueled by the stories people like 28-year old Ben Eyestone, a drummer who played for artists such as Margo Price. He died from colon cancer in July 2017 just days after being diagnosed. He was uninsured, and was unable to obtain a colonoscopy when he first became sick.
"I just hope that for moms like Laura Eyestone, who lost her son because he didn't have a colonoscopy, that we can help to stop that. In talking to her, that's something that helps me get up every morning, and do what we're doing. To be able to make sense that is more than a job – it's our mission. I don't know why we were chosen to do this, but we were, and we take it real seriously. The by-product all this – and this is not what we set out to do – is that systems change."
Fellow music business veteran Sheila Shipley Biddy, who serves as a Certified Senior Advisor and COO MHA, echoes Allsep's emotions, sharing another emotional story the work the organization has done – and the lasting effect it has had.
"I had a client who had worked in the industry forever, and he had a daughter who was in her thirties. She had developed uterine cancer when her little boy was born two years before. He had done everything – sold land to try to pay for treatments, taken her to Mexico to try treatments there or fundraisers. She had a rare form cancer, and it was kicking her. Through it, we got her insured, got her to a special place in Georgia that had the kind treatment – some type immune therapy – that she needed. A little while later, I had him on my mind, so I called him to see how his daughter was doing. He said she just passed away a few hours before. It hit me like a ton bricks. I said 'I'm so sorry. I can't believe I called you like that.' He said 'Don't apologize. You don't understand. Because you and what you guys are doing, my daughter lived long enough that my grandson will remember his mother. He was old enough that he can still have a memory her – living.' That's powerful as mothers – to know that you've given hope and life to someone long enough that their child will remember them."
The family members affected by the mission MHA have their own stories to tell. Beverly Keel – a pressor who also is one Nashville's most respected journalists – credits them for saving her sister Susan's life.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that Tatum, Shelia and MHA saved my sister's life. I can never adequately express my thanks for all that they have done for my family. They are experts at navigating the health care and insurance mazes. Also, they are a voice reason and sanity during a time when people aren't able to think rationally during a family member's life-threatening situation. Tatum was able to talk to doctors for us, and then translate into English what was said. With one call, she was able to get us needed information, care and medication. Tatum, Shelia and everyone at MHA are truly angels on earth."
Music Health Alliance fers their services for free, but is funded by grants, personal donations, and benefit events. One event is the annual spring "First and Worst" concert, where many Music City's top tunesmiths fer their initial forays into songwriting – as well as the composition that they may not be the most proud . And, then, there's the biggest fundraiser MHA – Heal The Music Day, set for October 19.
"Heal The Music Day is my favorite day the year," says Biddy. "Rodney Crowell really wanted to figure out a way to help us tell our story to the masses. He said 'We get asked to do stuff all the time – charity events and fundraisers for this cause or that cause, and they are all important. But what can we do where nobody has to do anything that they are not already doing?' He came up with the idea, which is one day a year – the third Friday in October – and if you're an artist, and you have a show anytime between now and then, we would love it if you could give five percent that show – or whatever you can afford – or a songwriter, a portion your royalties from that day or that time frame. If you're a venue, or even if you love music and aren't part the industry, this is a chance to make your donation the same way," she said, adding that artists such as Kid Rock, Miranda Lambert, and Ronnie Dunn have all made pledges for this year. And you need not be a musician to participate, she says, adding that any donation is appreciated – and useful.
"We can take a one dollar donation, and turn it around into thirty dollars health-care resources. That's a pretty good rate return." For more information about the services MHA provides, visit www.MusicHealthAlliance.com.