When you’re thinking about your dance career, health insurance isn’t usually your first thought. Auditions, training, and making rent usually come to mind long before you’re worried about how you’re going to cover the cost of your dance injuries. This is most likely due to the fact that almost every job in America offers health insurance within their benefits package. Your parents (unless they were self-employed) may have never taught you where to find health insurance, because it was automatically deducted from their payroll. However, most dancers and dance teachers are private contractors and that means health insurance isn’t offered automatically. But don’t worry, there’s hope for dancers alike and several options to make sure you’re covered.
Firstly, why get covered? Well, this answer is fairly obvious, because it’s actually illegal not to have health insurance in several states. But besides avoiding legal penalties, it’s absolutely crucial to have health insurance as a dancer. Once you obtain coverage, you’ll have access to your health insurance company’s website, which will make finding the right doctor a piece of cake. Not only will you have access to your primary care physician, but you’ll have access to doctors for athletes and you’ll be able to address dance related injuries. Not to mention, that almost every health insurance company has a telehealth option, which is vital for dancers who are on the road and need to seek medical advice.
Most dancers and dance teachers are private contractors and that means health insurance isn’t offered automatically.
So where can you find health insurance coverage? Well, thankfully there are several options, and I’ll take you through them as we explore the wonderful world of health coverage…
The first option we’ll look at is potentially sitting next to you right now. At age 26 you’re forced off of your parent’s insurance, but if you’re under 26, you’ll definitely want to ride that gravy train until you no longer can. And if you’re married, you can elect to be on your spouse’s health insurance plan. Getting married is a “life qualifying event”, so you’ll be able to sign up for insurance up to 2 months after your wedding, or during the open enrollment period for your spouse’s company. But let’s say you’re no longer 26 and wedding bells are not in the near future… What then?
Never fear, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, which is a federal statute enacted by the 111th Congress, the first place you’re going to want to look is HealthCare.gov. This is the government funded guide to finding coverage and it will direct you to your state’s website for health insurance enrollment. Keep in mind that the open enrollment period for each State is listed on their website; for example, California’s open enrollment period is from November 1st to January 31st. Finding coverage outside of open enrollment can be difficult if you do not have a “life qualifying event”. This means that you must have lost a job, been married, had a child, moved to a new state, or aged off your parent’s plan in order to enroll outside of the open enrollment period. So, make sure to jot down the open enrollment dates and snag yourself some insurance to make sure those dance injuries will be covered!
The next option is to go straight to the source and bypass the government search tool. For example, if you know you want to be on Blue Shield insurance, you can go directly to their website and sign up. Just be aware that you may be missing out on some government assistance if you qualify. The government offers some financial reprieve to certain individuals, and you’ll need to go through their website to see if you fit that mold.
An additional option for certain performers is SAG-AFTRA, however I’ll prepare you in advance that this option is slightly more complicated than the others due to the extensive qualification requirements. To be eligible for SAG-AFTRA health insurance, a performer must reach a certain level of covered earnings and the producer you are working with, must have signed a Collective Bargaining Agreement with SAG-AFTRA. Like I said… slightly more complicated. If you do qualify, you’ll be notified and receive coverage after payment of the premium. You’re probably wondering, well how much do I need to make in order to be covered? You need to be making at least $25,950 in a 12-month earning period to qualify for SAG insurance. If you do not satisfy the Covered Earnings requirements by meeting the earning threshold, you might qualify for insurance under the alternative days eligibility rule. This rule simply states that you must have at least 100 eligibility days during your base earnings period. It’s important to note that you can lose coverage if you do not continue to meet the minimum earnings, or the days worked during your base earnings period. The best example of this is actually from Friends the TV show. You must remember the episode where Joey gets a letter that he has lost his insurance due to a lack of work. Mayhem then ensues as he attempts to go to audition after audition to get his insurance back. What’s probably not so accurate about that episode, is unlike Joey, reinsuring yourself would take several weeks for all the paperwork to go through. Also, Joey is lucky he doesn’t have kids or a wife, because dependents (including both children and spouses) will generally lose coverage if you do. SAG-AFTRA insurance is a great option for those with steady work in the dance industry who know they are going to meet the minimum requirements.
An important question we’ll address is the time old debate: HMO or PPO? HMO stands for Health Maintenance Organization and means that you must go to network providers to get medical care. PPO stands for Preferred Provider Organization and means that you can see providers both within and outside of your network. It’s no mystery that PPO health insurance tends to be more expensive; this is because you can choose when and who you see for medical care. You’ll want to choose this option if you have special health needs that require very specific doctors who are out of your network. You can confirm if a doctor is out of your network by simply calling the health insurance company or by using their website. As a dancer, you may also want to contemplate choosing PPO if there are specific doctors who fit your professional needs. We’ve all had the standard health care physician say, “just stop dancing for a while.” Well it’s safe to say those doctors just don’t get it, and they don’t understand that dance is some people’s profession, not just a hobby. Unfortunately some of the best dance doctors are out of network, have private practices, or work as a physical therapist. You’ll want to call the doctor you're currently seeing or hoping to see, so that you can decide if you need to get HMO or PPO insurance coverage. HMO is the better option if all your health care professionals are within the same network, and tends to be more affordable.
Okay, so now you have your insurance provider, you’ve chosen either HMO or PPO, and you’ve received your insurance cards in the mail. You’re ready to find a doctor. If you choose HMO, you’ll want to go straight to the website of your health insurance provider, set up a login, and find doctors that are within your network. If you have PPO insurance, you can look outside of your network and explore options like Doctors for Dancers or your local physical therapy offices. It’s important that whether you are HMO or PPO you still have a primary care physician and consult that doctor on all injuries and illnesses. If you are HMO and still want to explore options for dance related injuries, then the Doctors for Dancers website has free zoom sessions that educate dancers on healthy training practices. Sugarfoot Therapy is also a great tool for all dancers who would like to receive more information on injury prevention and physical therapy practices that will support your training. And lastly Biscuit Ballerina is a great resource for dancers who need help with their mental health; they offer a database of psychiatric specialists and counselors for dancers who are struggling with things like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. But no matter where you turn for medical advice, it’s important that your doctors at least have a basic understanding and respect for what you do as a dancer.
That wraps up the guide to finding health insurance as a dancer. With any hope you’ll never need to see a doctor for a dance related injury, but it’s always comforting to know there’s help in your corner when it’s needed. Be well and live well, and hopefully this advice will help the self-employed dancers of the world have the proper coverage in place.