This is a guest post by my friend Dennis Carlson.

Dennis and I started our music careers in the 90s at Rykodisc, which at the time was a mid-sized independent record label based out of Salem, MA. While our careers have gone in different directions since our start at Ryko (I moved onto Berklee in Boston, and Dennis founded an insurance agency in CA), I was pretty excited to meet up with Dennis this past year at SXSW and learn that he’s getting back into the music business. After talking with Dennis for a couple of minutes at the Gayngs shows, I realized what a resource he was for musicians who are interested in learning more about best practices with health care. I asked him to put together a quick overview of options and tips, which you can read below. Follow Dennis @gaslighteast

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I am an ex-artist manager, current health insurance agent, and aspiring music licensing guru and this March I was fortunate enough to attend SXSW in Austin. My evenings were filled with amazing music by soon-to-be-known bands like The Naked and the Famous, once-known-and-back-again power rockers the Smoking Popes, and too-cool-to-ever-really-be-known smart hip hoppers Gayngs. During the day, on the other hand, I opted to hit up as many panels as possible. The first panel I attended was titled “Break a Leg! Musicians and Health Care Reform”. The purpose of the panel was to provide artists with information on the health care reform bill that was passed last year and discuss the options for coverage.

The panel highlighted the problem artists have finding health insurance coverage and provided valuable resources to assist with this problem. A notable panelist was Rogue Wave drummer Pat Spurgeon who discussed his experience waiting for a kidney transplant. His saga is chronicled in the gut-wrenching documentary “D-tour”.

As someone who assists individuals and small business owners every day in finding health insurance, I know these struggles all too well, but I also know a few tricks.
Here are some tips for navigating the health insurance world based upon on my experiences, and while they provide no guarantee of getting coverage, they should give some guidance and direction.

1) Find a reputable health insurance agent. This is probably the most important step. Agents know much more about health insurance than you do and will only be paid if you secure a health insurance policy. Despite what many people assume, it doesn’t cost you any more money to use an insurance agent than if you simply bought a policy directly from the insurance company. To find an agent in your area go to www.nahu.org and click Find an Agent.

2) Determine if you can qualify as a small business. If you are a band that is producing even modest revenue, then it might make sense to form a simple business entity like a partnership, LLC, or maybe even a corporation. Or if you are a solo artist, and can show Schedule C income when you file your taxes some insurance companies will treat you like a small business and offer the exact same plans and rates that any small business would qualify for. In California, if you are a sole-proprietor with Schedule C income and are married and file taxes jointly, Kaiser Permanente will offer you a small group health plan, with no medical questions.

3) Look into associations you are (or could be) a member of. Many industry associations and chambers of commerce have health plans available to their members. Many times the association dues are modest and the criteria to qualify as a member of the association are minimal. One such association is the Freelancers Union. Membership is free and members are eligible for the association health plans (and many other benefits too). At the moment, the health plan is only available to qualified freelancers who are residents of New York State. Think about what you do and then put your Google skills to work to find an association that fits you.

4) Check out your State sponsored options. Currently most states have some form of government sponsored health care available. Depending on your state, annual income, household size and other factors, you may qualify for assistance. The easiest way to figure out what you qualify for is to call the US Uninsured Help Line at 800-234-1317 or use the on-line eligibility tool at www.coverageforall.org . I’ve personally used this free service for individuals.

5) Check with your parents. One benefit of the health care reform bill that is already in effect is the ability for children under the age of 26 to stay (or rejoin) their parents health insurance plan. In the past, dependents between 19 and 25 had to be full-time students but this is no longer the case. If you are under 26 and your parents have health insurance ask them to inquire about what it takes to get on the plan.

Between now and 2014 we’re going to see many changes to the health care system, the way insurance companies are regulated, and individual access to coverage and care. What you knew about insurance last year is probably irrelevant, and by this time next year I’m confident the same will be true. The Federal government has done a decent job compiling information about changes at www.healthcare.gov, but be sure to utilize multiple sources to get the best and most current information. You are your best advocate.

Dennis Carlson owns Bespoke Benefits, an insurance agency in Davis, California. He also runs Gaslight-East an artist development and licensing company. He loves distilling the complexities of health insurance and the music business for anyone who asks. Follow him @gaslighteast