Healthy Artists Take on Health Care Reform

A little over a year ago, a friend lent Julie Sokolow a book by New York Times bestselling author T.R Reid, titled “The Healing of America.” The book gives a comprehensive breakdown of the U.S. health care system compared to other countries. ” “It was eye-catching,” says the 25-year-old acclaimed musician turned indie filmmaker. “Every other first world nation offers healthcare to its citizens. We spend more on healthcare, but we don’t take care of everyone. This is the great American injustice of the 21st century.”

Sokolow was instantly inspired, and started to get heavily involved with efforts to reform U.S. health care. An artist herself, Sokolow wanted to tell the stories of her peers. “I started interviewing my friends in the arts scene about their lives, their art, and their experiences with health care,” she says.

In January 2012, she assembled a team of young creatives to produce the documentary series “Healthy Artists ,” in which Pittsburgh artists talk about their lives, their work, and struggles with the current, broken health care system. With so many of the nation’s young adults uninsured, (approximately ages 19-29), Sokolow’s main approach is to expose the horrific injustices caused by the current system, while calling for a more just solution–universal health care.

“I’m thinking more critically about the artist’s lifestyle: Why do we accept that it should be fraught with instability? Why do we accept the starving/poor/tortured artist cliche? And why are all my creative, intelligent, artistic friends uninsured and unable to see a doctor when they need to?”

AIF talked with Sokolow about her efforts, and how artists of all kind can become “Healthy Artists.”

Danielle Nicole: Tell me about some of the general battles/concerns artists, and freelancers alike, face with when trying to get access to healthcare services. What are some common issues you are always hearing about?

Julie: Artists and SO many other kinds of people in America lack access to good, affordable health care. And that’s a really scary position to be in. Good quality health insurance is really expensive and poor quality health insurance is just that. So most artists, freelancers, adjunct professors, service industry folks, and anyone else not getting health care from their employer, just cross their fingers and hope they don’t have an accident or get sick. It’s a very oppressive, anxiety-provoking way to live. And the US is the only industrialized nation that allows things to go on like this.

Danielle Nicole: As a community organizer, what is the most difficult part about what you do?

Julie: Apathy is easy. I totally understand that. For a long time, I didn’t pay attention to politics for that reason. You get home from school or work, drained of energy, and the last thing you want to do is hear about how bad things are in the world. So I want to keep Healthy Artists quirky and fun. The series is about talented, young, creative people. And the underlying message is: America would be SO AWESOME if health care was universal and considered a basic human right.

Danielle Nicole: Since starting Healthy Artists, what gains/successes would you say you’ve had? On a local level? Federal level?

Julie: Locally, we’ve assembled a big team of film/video folks to document stories and get the word out. It seems like just about every artist, college student, business owner, professor, community leader, etc we’ve talked to has been excited to collaborate with us. On a local level, it’s been proven to me that the vast majority of people are pro-universal health care. In the course of a year, we’ve made 30 short films, had a gigantic, roving art show (which started in January and is still happening). We’ve had some art exhibition/advocacy events that brought the Pittsburgh community together to talk about health care. Recently, we got invited to officially blog about Healthy Artists for Michael Moore’s website. Our local successes are indicative of what is possible on a national level. And people seem to recognize that.

Danielle Nicole: What are your thoughts on “Obamacare?” Is it progressive enough? Do you find that majority of the uninsured are in favor of its policies?

Julie: History suggests clearly to me that America will have single-payer universal health care someday. There’s just more work to be done to get there. Americans need to get savvy and vocal about it ASAP so we can get fair care sooner than later. Not to get too depressing, but people die in America a lot, because of this issue. Before his election in 2008, Obama was very vocal in support of single-payer universal health care (single-payer just refers to how it’s financed). As president, he successfully established the Affordable Care Act, which thankfully, was not repealed. The Affordable Care Act allows individual states to experiment with single-payer health care. So if people want to help, they can join or form single-payer universal health care advocacy groups. And they can do a number of things to help (including creative, artistic things!)

Danielle Nicole: In a perfect world, what would be an ideal health care system in the U.S.?

Julie: An ideal health care system is founded on the idea that health care is a human right and not a privilege. People shouldn’t have to work corporate 9 to 5s or be in prison to get health care. I think everyone should get health care despite their age, job, race, income, or any other factor. So a fair health care system would be a mark of a truly free and democratic society. You only have to look so far as to Canada, France, Germany, and the UK, for inspiring examples of universal health care.

Danielle Nicole: Does Healthy Artists’ have any projects coming up that you would like to mention?

Julie: A very talented film production co, Studio Corrida, is making a 30 minute documentary about Healthy Artists and what we’ve accomplished so far. We’re going to have a massive screening party for it this summer, which will be fun! We’ve been able to fight for universal health care in a creative and rewarding way. We hope more folks across the country will get involved. We totally encourage them to start filming health care stories in their communities. If people want any advice on how to help, they can contact us at healthyartists@gmail.com