Q+A with Springboard healthcare program director, Nikki Hunt

by Thomas Q. Johnson

A&E sent Nikki Hunt, the program director for St. Paul-based Springboard for the Arts’ healthcare initiative a few questions via email about how her work helps artists gain access healthcare. The work of Hunt and her colleagues to make sure "starving artists" aren't "sick artists" is a major plank in Springboard's mission is to “cultivate vibrant communities by connecting artists with the skills, information, and services they need to make a living and a life.”  

Check out Hunt's answers below, and read our full story on artists' access to healthcare here-> “Artists take pains to get coverage.”

What makes the business of being an independent artist different from other professions? What are the challenges of living as an artist when it comes to health insurance?

Like other self-employed persons, independent artists typically have sporadic income. They don't get insurance through an employer and haven't had access to guaranteed issue health insurance. Artists in Minnesota are twice as likely to be uninsured and even more likely to have catastrophic health insurance.

What services does Springboard for the Arts offer to artists?

Springboard for the Arts’ mission is to cultivate vibrant communities by connecting artists with the resources they need to make a living and a life — this encompasses a lot! Our programs include health care, professional development, fiscal sponsorship, arts job listings, attorney referrals, partnerships with city governments to address community issues and Resource Centers.

Artists' Access to Healthcare (AAH) is a free program that helps connect our creative community to healthcare and health insurance. We are certified to provide unbiased information and referrals to help artists better understand the requirement for health insurance and assist them in gaining that coverage through MNsure, our state's new health insurance marketplace. We also partner with low-cost clinics to help artists get high-quality and low-cost medical, dental and mental health care.

What are the details of the AAH program? How would an artist use it?

The AAH program provides artists with two, $40 vouchers to use, once a year, towards services at these clinics. The application process is quick and accessible. There is no fine print. All uninsured/underinsured (are using the voucher for a service not covered by their insurance) artists and their families qualify. Vouchers are ready the same or next business day.

AAH gets artists in the door of high-quality clinics to realize they can afford the care they need and discover additional resources and education. The majority of artists who participate in the AAH voucher program have incomes between $12,500 – $14,999 and $20,000 -$24,999. 98% report they find a home for their ongoing healthcare needs; only 10% use AAH more than once. This is how we define success – individuals develop a relationship that continues without our intervention.

The insurance you find on MNsure is better than ever– all plans are legally required to cover 10 essential health benefits like laboratory services, prescription drugs and free preventive care. However, individuals will still have deductibles to satisfy and insurance coverage for services like dental and eye care aren't legally required for adults. So, it's important to acknowledge the continued value of community clinics to help bridge the gap, especially for those with sporadic and often low income.

How will MN Sure affect artists when it goes into effect?

Most of the barriers that prevent artists from getting health insurance no longer exist on MNsure. If you're on MNsure right now, you're enrolling in coverage to begin on or after January 1, 2014. That means pre-existing conditions no longer exist. You can't be denied health insurance coverage. Though independent artists will still have sporadic income, they have access to new subsidies to make the cost of their health insurance more affordable. And they can shop for insurance from a variety of providers all in one place. That's a really big deal!

Can you share any success stories you've seen of artists working with Springboard to find insurance?

The artists I've met with have found better insurance at lower rates or free and reduced cost public insurance. It's been a transformative experience for many, especially those who've had to go without health insurance for so many years.