A newly-formed nonprofit, made up of artists and musicians in Denton, is working to reverse a trend that, unfortunately, impacts millions of Texans.
New numbers released this week tell a slightly updated version of a familiar story – far too few Texans have health insurance.
U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday shows around 4.5 million Texans lacked health insurance as of 2016, more than any other state. Texas' uninsured rate also remained the country's highest.
Those statistics are slight improvements over previous data.
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Texas’ 2016 rate of uninsured people was 16.6 percent. That's down from 17.1 percent in 2015 and 22.1 percent in 2013.
Compared to 2013, that means about 1.2 million fewer Texans are living without health insurance as of last year.
Nic Bagherpour has been there and knows firsthand how devastating a lack of health insurance can be when common ailments take a turn for the worse.
A few years ago, Bagherpour, now 38, came down with a case of bronchitis, which then developed into pneumonia that ultimately lead to a hospitalization, surgery and a week-long stay in an intensive care unit.
With no health insurance at the time, Bagherpour’s bill was $32,000.
“I started crying to be quite honest I was still in the hospital,” Bagherpour said about his initial reaction to seeing the bill for the first time while he was still lying in his hospital bed. “l I hope you've never had to be in a situation like that, but when you are in the hospital and you have a serious illness or condition they don't usually wait a month or two to send you a bill. They get you to sign a bill before you can leave.”
That ordeal planted the seed that grew into an idea earlier this year in conversation with friends who are musicians and artists who complained of avoiding basic dental care or mental health services due to a lack of health insurance.
So Bagherpour helped his friends to form the Denton Music and Arts Collaborative, a 501(c)3 nonprofit with a stated goal of helping to raise money and subsidize health care coverage for members of the arts community in Denton.
“We have a lot of musicians and artists in this town that work really hard all the time at their chosen profession - and it is a profession and they work just as hard, if not harder- than people that have a 9 to 5 job - and they don't necessarily have the same kind of support system,” Bagherpour said about DMAC’s motivation. “It's kind of overwhelming to see that these people that you love and care about, and that are contributing so much to the culture of the town, it's difficult to see them going through that and not want to do something.”
DMAC has drawn some of its inspiration and guidance from the more-established Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
“Many of Austin’s musicians juggle two jobs on top of music, and still struggle to pay for food and shelter,” HAAM states on its website. “With no money for health care, issues with teeth, hearing loss, heart health and more get ignored, and become expensive emergencies.”
Music has long been part of the culture in Austin. And in recent years Denton has developed a reputation for having a thriving arts and music community. It is part of the reason why Bagherpour said he moved specifically to Denton.
“I defy anybody to find a musician who is doing that who has chosen that as their trade and is managing to make a living at it and find that person to be anything but industrious,” Bagherpour said. “Because you cannot survive as a musician or an artist and not be willing to work really hard; they have to [work hard] to be able to survive.”