Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Seeking younger ACA sign-ups in a rock venue

It's not unusual for churches, community centers, even shopping malls to sponsor Affordable Care Act enrollment events. But an ACA sign-up at 11 a.m. at a Fishtown hipster bar known for its indie rock shows?

It's not unusual for churches, community centers, even shopping malls to sponsor Affordable Care Act enrollment events.

But an ACA sign-up at 11 a.m. at a Fishtown hipster bar known for its indie rock shows?

Other than the 11 a.m. start - we are talking about rock musicians - it makes total sense if that's the audience you want to reach. And that is exactly the demographic Healthy Philadelphia was playing to on a recent Saturday at Johnny Brenda's, a gastropub and live music venue.

"We know that it's a place where many musicians play and feel comfortable," said Carol Rogers, director of the nonprofit, which aims to expand quality health care in the city. The people at Johnny Brenda's "understood right away and said, let's make something happen."

So from brunch to happy hour, five in-person assistors presided at tables on the third-floor balcony of the turn-of-the-century building with "a world-class sound system." Throughout the day, 22 people - almost all in their 20s and early 30s - came in to learn about insurance, start the enrollment process, or sign up.

"It's our way of giving back to the community," said Greg Mungan, the bar's production manager. "We're interested in the sustainability of musicians."

A 2013 online survey by the Future of Music Coalition and the Artists' Health Insurance Resource Center found that 43 percent of American artists - from musicians to dancers and visual artists - lack health insurance. Most musicians can't live off the money they make playing music and take part-time jobs. The Johnny Brenda's staff is "full of musicians" working part time in the kitchen and behind the bar, and serving tables, Mungan said.

"Before the ACA, health insurance was seen as a luxury," he said. And this year, with Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania, more young musicians, artists, and others will have insurance.

"We know that quite a few [musicians] are eligible for Medicaid this year," Rogers said.

While Medicaid enrollment is open all year, there is only one week before the Feb. 15 deadline to sign up for marketplace health insurance. Groups across the region are gearing up for a final enrollment push with enrollment events planned this week across the city and region.

As of Jan. 30, 430,000 Pennsylvanians and more than 216,000 New Jersey residents had either bought or been automatically reenrolled in their current health plan on, according to the federal government.

Once the marketplace closes, consumers can buy insurance only if they have a life-changing event, such as marriage, a baby, or losing job-based health insurance. People who don't have insurance face a $325 fine for an adult and $162.50 for each child or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater, when they file their income taxes next year.

Since the marketplace went into effect Jan. 1, 2014, the number of uninsured Americans has dropped from 17.1 percent to 12.9 percent, according to a January Gallup Poll. An important part of that decline, and a bellwether of the ACA's overall success, is whether a large enough number of 18- to 34-year-olds are choosing to sign up.

So far, it appears they are. Nationwide, 2.5 million people under 35 years old - or 35 percent of the sign-ups on - have bought insurance. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, that number was slightly less at 33 percent.

Ryan Hendrikson added to those numbers Saturday. Wearing a paisley-print black bandanna around his head, the punk-rock guitar player needed coverage after getting bumped off his mother's insurance when he turned 26 in October.

His boss at Little Baby's Ice Cream in Philadelphia, where he works part time, told Hendrikson that radio station WXPN was tweeting about the sign-up at Johnny Brenda's and that he should "check it out."

In a very un-punk manner, he heeded his boss' advice. After sitting with an assistor, Hendrikson bought a UnitedHealthcare silver plan. Using his $130 subsidy, he will pay an $84-a-month premium. The deductible is $250.

"I went for the cheapest, most practical plan," said Hendrikson, who lives in West Philadelphia and makes $20,000 a year. "But there are much better options than before."

Hendrikson said that many of his friends hadn't yet bought health insurance. And even though he's happy with his plan and monthly premium, the real reason he bought insurance was the threat of a penalty.

"I'm doing my taxes and I don't want to get crunched by the penalty next year," said the baby-faced rocker.

Asked what advice he would give musician friends still uninsured, Hendrikson, smiling wryly, said: "Be in better bands."

Healthy Philadelphia's hotline for enrollment help is 267-207-3645.


This article was written in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.