Sunday, October 23, 2005

Artists Caring about Health Care: Potboiler Artists for Change presents an evening of dance music and theater

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Rebecca Valls in Red Square

Since closing Chrysalis’ doors in 2005, Choreographer turned activist Linda Phenix, has found a new mission to focus her artistic mind upon. She’s gravely concerned about health care—or the lack there of—in our country today. To that end, she’s gathered a group of equally concerned artists to present an evening of work addressed the growing crisis of health care.

DH: How urgent a crisis in this?
LP: Oh, it is a crisis for sure! In addition to the 45.8 million uninsured, estimates put an additional 45 million as underinsured. In addition, people with employer-based coverage are feeling more insecure. Lose your job, you lose your health insurance. Also, more and more corporations are passing through health care expenses to their employees.

We will have national health care in our lifetime. We will have to because the current system is not sustainable; in fact it is imploding before our eyes. Like others passionate about this problem, I would like to speed this up to eliminate the hardship that many Americans are experiencing in our current system.

However, this will not come from the top down. A majority of our elected senators and representatives have been co-opted by the health insurance lobby. Politicians receive affordable health care insurance provided by the American taxpayers, but they worship at the altar of the for-profit health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies. But, there is some hope on the horizon. There is a bill in the house with about 50 representatives who have signed on in support of it. The bill, HR 676, is also known as US National Health Insurance Act. But, this bill will need support from “the people.”

DH: How did an evening of artists doing work on this subject gel and how did you find like-minded people to participate?
LP: I approached a lot of performing artists who go to my church with whom I have worked on projects, and know they have a special interest in social justice issues. I also pulled in some of my former dance buddies for the same reason. It was important to work with artists who have an interest in the project and time to commit to it.

DH: How will the evening work?
LP: Stories representing what is happening to lower and middle income are told through dance, songs, monologues, skits, etc. Some of the stories are horrific, especially 2 that represent the working poor. And it isn't just people without insurance we will hear from or about. One of the most powerful stories is about a woman with cancer who is living a hellish existence with her insurance company that won't cover this and won't cover that, and when she complained to the state of Texas, she was told that the insurance company was "in the right."

While the pieces are separate, we put them together to create a flow that is different from a repertory concert. The show starts out light and fun and becomes more serious as the stories emerge. Live music by singers and instrumentalists provides a powerful glue to link the pieces.

DH: What can audience members expect to learn?
LP: They will learn why our system is collapsing and about efforts to change it with comprehensive reform. They will learn about Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) as a reference resource to become educated about the health care crisis. This research-based organization of physicians has been hard at work on this issue for about 20 years. The audience will also learn about what is happening at the state level through the organization Health Care for All Texas.

DH: How is art, as in dance, music, and theater the best way to learn about all this?
LP: Art reaches and teaches people in one way. Power point presentations reach and teach in another way. Both approaches are valuable, but some people respond better when they learn about something through art.

DH: What myths (lies perpetrated by the health insurance industry) are debunked in this show?
LP: One such myth is that poor people can get Medicaid. It’s not so easy to qualify. We will hear some stories about this. Another myth is that the for-profit health insurance industry contains costs through competition. This is the biggest lie ever! Health care costs have been driven up by the health insurance industry.

DH: How does age factor into the picture?
LP:ob lock is a serious problem for the 50-plus crowd. If you are 50 and you have had a serious or chronic illness, there is a good change you will experience job lock, defined as staying with a company just for the health insurance. It makes it hard to make a move. In fact, employers don't want to hire sick people because it increases their health care costs.

DH: What does all of this say about the moral integrity of the health insurance industry?
LP: What is going on in this country with regards to health care is immoral beyond belief. We have CEOs of health insurance companies making as much as $47 million per year. How do they pull down these salaries--by doing everything possible to deny coverage to sick people!

We have the most incredible administrative waste with 1500 private insurers, not to mention the increase in administrators to deal with the companies in our hospitals’ and doctors’ offices. We have investors making money off of this too. Health insurance company profit margins are extremely high. How do these guys maximize profits? They avoid insuring the sick.

DH: Why do we still have this system?
LH: We have this system because we seem to think that market place practices can be applied to everything. Well, the market does wonderful things if you need to buy a house, a car, a VCR, a dress, etc. Managed care and all the other host of cost-saving schemes that have been perpetrated by the health insurance industry have driven up costs while making life miserable for many Americans.

Did you know that we spend more in the US on health care than every other developed country? Yet, we get so much less for our money. Part of the why is about Americans themselves. We can’t blame all of this on insurers and politicians. We have to ask ourselves the following: Is health care a right or a privilege?

DH: The evening is not all performance. What’s the lecture about?
LP: Joe Bak will give a short talk in the second act to help people understand the complexities of our current system. Dr. Bak knows this stuff inside and out and is a member of Physicians for a National Health Program and Health Care for All Texas.

DH: Will there be any practical advice on what to do about all of this?
LP: People will leave with suggested action steps. Hopefully we will fire up a lot of folks.

DH: How does the show end?
Mary Ann Pendino’s monologue closes the show. It is a killer momen, a true, gritty, story that takes on point blank the immoral practices of private insurers. Pendino's piece is "an elephant in the living room” moment.

Uncovered: The American Health Care Story
a performance of true stories about the U.S. health care crisis
By Potboiler Artists for Change-a Coalition of Houston Artists
Sunday, October 30 at 7 PM at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex, located downtown at 2201 Preston Street
Contact Linda Phenix 713-975-7218