Haam is Keeping Austin Musicians Healthy and Rocking

Published On December 18, 2013 | Austin MD, November/December 2013


For every dollar that comes into HAAM, We’re able to leverage that into about seven dollars in service.

By Jaime Netzer

You’ve probably caught a truly great live show recently. Maybe you danced to Passion Pit before the rain set in at ACL; maybe you slipped into the Continental Club on a random Monday afternoon for a no-cover early show. Austin is, after all, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World. More than 9,000 working musicians call Austin home, but what you may not know is that the vast majority of them live on less than $16,000 a year, and many are uninsured. Luckily, Austin is also home to the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), a nonprofit healthcare organization that helps keep those working poor musicians’ bodies as in tune and on track as the music that fuels this community.

HAAM was founded in 2005 by the late Austin philanthropist Robin Shivers. Nine years ago, HAAM had 450 members. Today, they have more than 2,050. In 2012, the organization raised more than $1 million through foundation support, special events, individual contributions and more. 2013’s HAAM Benefi t Day, where businesses donated 5 percent of the day’s proceeds to HAAM and musicians performed throughout the day at retail stores, outside stages and more, is expected to bring in an estimated $350,000 alone.

“It’s a unique organization,” explains Chris Adams, HAAM Board President and partner at Maxwell, Locke & Ritter LLP. “The founder wanted to maximize the services that were given to musicians, so they reached out to healthcare providers in the community who were already serving the working poor. It was designed as a leverage collaboration model across the community’s resources, collaborating between clients, healthcare providers and the community as a whole.”

Plus, Adams adds, HAAM’s success is thanks to the Austin community’s generosity. “Th e Austin community understands how important music is. There’s a giving culture in Austin, and donors really understand what they’re getting for their gift : The community will benefit from it culturally and financially.”

HAAM doesn’t provide services directly to musicians; rather, it partners with area experts, helping to facilitate necessary health services. “We’re not an insurance provider; we’re a connector,” Adams says.

And those providers are numerous: Seton Medical Centers provide primary medical care; St. David’s Foundation in partnership with Capital Area Dental Foundation provides basic dental care; the SIMS Foundation provides mental health and addiction recovery services; Estes Audiology provides hearing health services; Prevent Blindness Texas provides vision health services; and Whole Foods provides nutrition services.

And furthermore, most HAAM services are not free. They are, however, low-cost. “For every dollar that comes into HAAM, we’re able to leverage that into about seven dollars in service,” Adams says. “Th ese providers off er services at a greatly reduced rate, and the musicians pay very small copays.”

Those small copays can make a huge diff erence for working musicians like John Pointer, who has eleven Austin Music Awards, including this year’s award for Best Acoustic Guitar. Pointer, who describes his solo shows as a “one man wall of sound,” is also a Type 1 Diabetic. Back in 2009, he was denied coverage by his primary care physician aft er his high-risk insurance wouldn’t cover enough of the costs. “He wanted to see me more than my insurance would cover,” Pointer says, “and I couldn’t afford that. Quite honestly I could not afford to pay him a visit, in all senses of the word.”

As a diabetic, Pointer needs regular prescription refills in order to complete tests monitoring his blood glucose levels. But after his doctor sent a letter giving him 30 days to find a new physician, Pointer was angry and panicked. He wanted to keep his insurance, but find someone to write prescriptions, so he reached out to HAAM, who suggested something radical: “The social worker said, ‘We’ve got programs for this, why would you keep that insurance if they’re not serving you?’” Pointer says. “So for the first time in my life I took a deep breath and dumped my insurance.”

Since then, Pointer says, he’s been paying on a scaled rate for services and medication provided to him through HAAM. “For the first time in my life I started getting actual service, because HAAM is focused on treating people, not necessarily first and foremost on charging people.”

Board president Adams says stories like this are exactly why he got involved with HAAM in the first place. “It’s very important that we keep our musicians healthy. Austin gets a lot out of our musicians, and it’s a great economic stimulus; most of them don’t make very much money and don’t have health care. I feel like it’s something important for the community as well as for the people in the community.”

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