underground since'89

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tobi vail P.O. Box 2572 Olympia, WA 98507 USA

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Friday, September 4, 2009

a personal take on health care reform: in remembrance of lance hahn

photo by cathy bauer

Discussion about the health care debate today got me thinking about people I know who were sick and could not get the medical care they deserved.

My own memories of being sick without health insurance are with me to this day--repeated doctors bills with no savings --test after test, not knowing what was wrong. $50 visits turning to $100 visits adding up to $300, then $500, then quickly $1000+ worth of bills had accumulated. I had no credit card, no savings, no steady job other than 'touring punk rock band' and kept getting sent to internal medicine specialists who advised me to go to University of Washington for tests because they couldn't diagnose my blood condition. At that point I couldn't afford anymore treatments and my symptoms eventually went away. I paid off the debt little by little and applied for Basic Health, which is available to low income people in Washington State.

After this I promised myself that I would not put myself in this position again--where my health would be jeopardized by not having insurance. I also felt that, as a responsible adult--I was 25--I was not willing to put my parents in the position where they felt they had to worry and care for me if I got sick. As a working musician I did not have many options. I was afraid I was going to get sick again. If Basic Health had not been available, I would probably have seriously considering quitting my band at that time and going back to work at the library, which is what I was doing before the band started. This was 1994 and my band, Bikini Kill, was at the height of our touring and recording life--one of the reasons we were able to keep doing that was because our state offered a public health care option for low income people.

I had Basic Health until Bikini Kill broke up and I started working at Kill Rock Stars regularly. Now I get coverage through my work. My schedule is flexible and I am able to take time off but I have to work a certain number of hours per week in order to qualify for the insurance and in order to keep my job I have responsibilities I have to cover. This is fair, but it does mean that it's difficult for me to prioritize a full time band, which would require me to be on tour for 4-8 months out of the year. So, while I appreciate the situation I am in and feel very lucky to work somewhere that provides benefits and values worker autonomy, I still feel that this system is somewhat inadequate for me and does put limitations on what I can do music-wise. I would like to be able to enjoy the freedom of starting another full time band, but as I am not willing to go without health insurance at age 40...well we all do what we can right, and really I have already gotten to be in a touring-the-world life-changing punk band that meant everything to me. My story is not a sad one. Things have worked out. I can't complain and I actually love my job; I consider it to be meaningful work. I have been lucky--both in art and in life. I can live with the compromises I have had to make, but I still worry about what will happen in the future and I hope that my luck will continue.

But what about those without luck?

The point is, we shouldn't have to rely on luck to get us through. Many of my friends do not have health insurance and this has been a constant source of crisis for years now. Not coincidentally many of them are working class musicians. Some have needed help with drug and alcohol rehabilitation. Others were in car wrecks and had benefit shows. Several have needed to go to the emergency room and not gone. Others are in need of mental health services and medication they can't afford. Many suffer from chronic pain that they are not treated for. A few are surviving cancer patients. Others have had to compromise their art because they have medical conditions that require them to work demanding jobs that provide benefits. Others didn't make it. Many died of drug related and mental health problems. Some died because they happened to get sick without having health insurance.

One of my friends who did not make it is Lance Hahn. You can read about him here. Lance got sick and did not have health insurance so he was not able to get the treatment he needed. Lance was someone I would see if I was on tour or if he was on tour and we were pen pals off and on for the 15 or so years that we knew each other. He interviewed Bikini Kill for MRR in the summer of 1991--this was our first national interview and we hit it off. Lance was a really perceptive person and had a creative, political take on punk. He set up shows for us at the Epicenter and even met us in Hawaii when we played there, hosting a dinner for us with all his old school Hawaii punk friends he knew from growing up there.

After BK broke up we kept in touch--we were both into English punk and he was a big Huggy Bear fan, which I thought was super cool. The Frumpies and Huggy Bear ran into him on tour in Minot, ND one time where we played a totally insane show with kids jumping up and down to every single note of every single band and we stayed up all night talking and laughing and drinking beer on the porch. I always tried to go see him when he was in Olympia and then would run into him in Austin, TX after he moved there. Lance was someone who I would trade zines with, someone who I would be sure to send a demo or 7" to and he would do the same for me. Really sweet, guy with a far-reaching political analysis who liked to read books.

I remember when I started Spider and the Webs and recorded a demo thinking that I had to send him one, that there was a point to what I was doing and that the reason to start a new band was to stay in touch with people like him--to keep things going from one era to the next--to connect on that level of trading shit and sleeping on each others' floors and exchanging ideas and helping each other tour and get our work out there. I would think of him when I had the scissors and glue out, when I was dubbing cassettes and when I was checking my mail box. He was that kind of friend, the kind that made you want to keep making shit and going on tour so that you would have an excuse to hang out in a new place together.

Lance was a writer and he wrote about being sick. I didn't actually know how sick he was until I read that he died. Everything I read associates his death with the lack of good medical care he was able to receive because he didn't have health insurance. Lance could have done anything with his life--he could have had a 'real job' that gave him full benefits and yet he chose to work jobs that meant something to him and allowed him to live on his own terms and focus on his music/writing. I have a lot of respect for that. He spent his life creating the world he wanted to live in via his art, culture, music and politics. He prioritized community and worked hard to make things better. He did not deserve all the debt his medical bills incurred. He did not deserve all the worry and suffering he faced. He did not deserve to die and his friends did not deserve to lose him.

It is Lance who I am thinking of today. I don't want anyone else to die because they don't have health insurance. Not an old lady, not a little kid, not any more punk rockers. Seriously, it's just not right. We need a public health care system. We can't wait any longer. Don't we all deserve to have our basic needs met?

Here's one for Lance, I Remember You by the Ramones


Unknown said...

Great post Tobi!

It was heartbreaking to see Lance go through this and even more heartbreaking to see him go through this as a side effect of dedicating his life to being an artist. And it's that much more heartbreaking to know that he isn't even close to alone.

When I was younger I had no idea that i would be making life decisions based on health care coverage. My parents were younger and healthier, my friends weren't getting sick (or dying from being sick), i wasn't married and didn't have a wife that had to go through fighting cancer. At this point in life losing health care has become the number one concern and the concern that shapes life decisions and that, well..., sucks.


Molly Neuman said...

Thanks for this. One of the most vivid memories of my life was that night in Minot (and my insane crankiness the next day after staying up all night talking shit and laughing with Lance and Jason.)Lance was a person who always had an opinion, a smile and a thought. He was positive but critical and those are excellent qualities. The tragedy of him not being able to get his rightful care and treatment is important for us to remember to remain motivated to help get these for others.

Shannon Drury said...

I'm very sorry for your loss.

When one of my closest friends was being treated for advanced colon cancer (diagnosed when she was only 33), she never said "as a middle class person with a job, I deserve treatments that will cost over one million dollars." She saw the bills and her heart broke for those who would die early, go bankrupt, or both. When she did die, her family could focus on grieving, not imminent foreclosure.

I remain amazed that a simple thing like compassion is so lacking in the greater portion of our population.

maggie said...

unrelated sort of but I was reminded yesterday of a kid I went to school with - wes. he was poor (lived behind the handy pantry) and had epilepsy among some other developmental problems. one day wes didn't come to school. he had died because his parents couldn't afford his medicine. most of the kids seemed unaffected about it (in general kids came from rich and conservative families at our school and wes was weird enough to make people uncomfortable) but our amazing teacher mister miller talked to us about it and why this shouldn't happen. the whole thing affected me deeply and I still think about wes regularly. it's to our shame as a country that we would allow this to happen. I have a hard time engaging with irrational people in debate but I think it's time to stand up and speak our opinion just as loudly as they are speaking theirs in honor of people like lance and wes that should be alive today.

Anonymous said...

wow! no comment i totally agree with you! it really touched me in every sense. hope one day to meet you. you're so unique!

Unknown said...

I needed to hear that. I worry about working for health insurance and that getting in the way of everything. So sad and tragic about Lance.