In the decade that has passed since Music Health Alliance launched in 2013, the non-profit organization has become a critical healthcare resource, providing free healthcare advocacy and resources to artists, music industry professionals and their families.
The MHA’s 15-person staff has saved clients more than an estimated $100 million in healthcare costs and provided free advocacy and support to more than 20,000 music industry clients in 50 states. Along the way, the organization has saved nearly 2,500 families from bankruptcy due to medical bills, aided 31 people in getting life-saving transplants, and provided urgent diagnostic care to 57 clients via the Ben Eyestone Fund.
But behind those massive stats are incredibly personal stories of musicians, artists, songwriters and industry members who lives have been impacted for good.
“Getting access to healthcare is the biggest thing,” Dierks Bentley tells Billboard. The country singer-songwriter is a longtime MHA supporter/client and now celebrity ambassador. “I’ve had some of my own crew that was sick in Canada with a life-threatening illness. It would have cost him like $550,000 out of pocket. He ended up paying $5,000. It saved his life, and it’s amazing what MHA does. It’s God’s work.”
MHA’s services are free to any person who has worked in the music industry for two or more years, or who has credited contributions to four commercially released recordings or videos. Spouses, partners and children of qualifying individuals may also receive access to the nonprofit’s services from birth to end of life.
“About 12 years ago, when I was chewing on the idea of Music Health Alliance, I looked at all the economic impact studies of cities where they had big entertainment economic bases,” says Tatum Allsep, Music Health Alliance founder and CEO. “At that point it was around 76% of all entertainment industry employed were small businesses and self-employment.”
Allsep is empathetic to the plight of primarily self-employed and small-business music creatives and professionals navigating the complex healthcare process. The organization’s typical “busy season” arrives Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, the window for open enrollment for individuals and families to get health insurance. “We see about 6,000 clients in total, and about 3,200 appointments to get people insured across the nation. Probably 68% of our clients are in Middle Tennessee but we also have a footprint now in all 50 states.”
Sony Music Publishing Nashville CEO Rusty Gaston tells Billboard of the importance of MHA’s efforts in offering peace of mind to songwriters.
“Songwriters are independent contractors, so they don’t have access to group insurance plans,” Gaston says. “When Music Health Alliance came along, they were the gateway to providing help to get songwriters into affordable insurance plans. Our health system is so complicated, and MHA is a safe place for songwriters and anyone who works on [Music Row] to call and it’s completely confidential and free. It is such a unique and remarkable service for our community.”
Allsep notes that MHA was created to be nimble, given the ever-shifting needs of the music industry. But in March 2020, at the genesis of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization was put to the test, right along with the rest of the industry.
“Literally, overnight, the calls we were getting usually saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got a huge medical bill,’ or ‘I just got this diagnosis,’ went from not being about medicine and doctors, but people saying, ‘I need food, I need diapers and formula for my kids,’” Allsep says. “There is no more basic form of healthcare than food — and we just said, ‘We gotta get food into our industry, because that’s what they need.’”
The Music Health Alliance board and staff turned to a fund named after MHA’s first public client, producer Cowboy Jack Clement, the famed writer-producer known for working with such artists as Charley Pride, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, as well as for his work as a music publisher and label operator.
“We had this fund, which had no revenue strings to it and it had about $60,000 in it,” Allsep says. “We went to City National Bank and said, ‘We need to withdraw this cash because we tried to order gift cards online and we could only order one or two at a time.’ So we literally went to Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and other places and bought $20,000 in gift cards. We thought we would end up doing this for like three months; we did this for a year and a half, to the point where anytime we would walk into Trader Joe’s, people would cheer.”
The team also curated lists of additional resources for places to get diapers, formula, mortgage and rental assistance, utilities assistance and more. The organization provided access to more than 1 million meals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Music Health Alliance also began offering resources for mental health counseling, with Allsep noting that between 2019 and 2020, MHA saw a 300% increase in requests for counseling.
“That was another pivot for us: finding a way to administer getting counselors paid, because most counselors don’t accept health insurance,” Allsep says. “So we created the MHA’s mental health fund that the Music Biz Association, Country Music Association, Academy of Country Music and so many individuals and organizations pitched in to help find a way to get counseling to the masses. Every Tuesday we have our finance meeting, and we write, on average, 150 checks that go out to counselors across the nation. To date, we’ve provided more than 3,500 counseling sessions. I am so proud of that, because people are talking about mental health and our industry is a right-brain, creative industry. They are more predisposed to facing things like depression and self-medicating. If we can get ahead of that and dispel the negative stereotypes around counseling and mental health, that’s good for the industry.”
Gaston adds, “A big secret to the creative is simply being in a good mental place to be able to create. At Sony, we were able during the pandemic to start a songwriters’ assistance program to offer free mental health counseling to all of our songwriters. But the MHA, for songwriters outside of Sony, have been able to help them find counseling [and] get paired with the right people to address mental health needs — especially when it was at an all-time high during the pandemic.”
In 2021, the CMA honored the MHA’s work by naming Allsep and MHA’s CFO and certified senior advisor Shelia Shipley Biddy as CMA Foundation Humanitarian Award recipients, alongside singer-songwriter Dolly Parton. Last year, Big Machine Label Group founder/president/CEO Scott Borchetta and his wife Sandi Borchetta made a $150,000 grant to MHA through their Music Has Value fund.
“It has been remarkable to witness Music Health Alliance in action over the past decade,” Borchetta tells Billboard via statement. “Their efforts to provide accessible healthcare to countless members of our beloved music community, especially throughout the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, are undeniably heroic. Their contribution and dedication to the wellbeing of our industry is truly awe-inspiring and we are honored to continue supporting their mission.”
Launching its 10th year, MHA has added a fund dedicated to dental health. The new resources are in conjunction with the Richard M. Bates SMILE fund, in memory of the music enthusiast and Walt Disney Company longtime senior vp of government relations.
Allsep says the next stage for Music Health Alliance will focus on the senior population, with Shipley Biddy leading that division.
“The senior population is the legacy of our industry, and there is such as deficit when it comes to things like home health, or being sent home from the hospital and not being able to take care of yourself,” Allsep says. “Home health is not covered by health insurance and it’s so expensive, but it enables someone to live with dignity and that’s important to us. We are focused on how we can do better for the legacy of our industry.”
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