By Josh Hallmark
Rock stars are just like us! They go to Starbucks, they grocery shop, and they even grapple over which health care plans to purchase while they’re perusing WAhealthplanfinder.org (I’ll give you a hint: Community Health Plan of Washington’s Community HealthEssentials). Chris Walla of local band and perennial emo heartthrobs Death Cab for Cutie has been participating in a new kind of tour- The Washington Health Plan Finder Open Enrollment Road Show. Chris has recently been quite vocal over his support for the Affordable Care Act and, specifically, Washington Health Plan Finder. I had the opportunity to sit down with him at a recent event at University of Washington to discuss his involvement and his selection of Community Health Plan of Washington as his plan of choice in the Exchange.
What prompted Chris to endorse the ACA and participate in the road show is the fact that as a rock star he is, essentially, self-employed. After getting married in February, he and his wife who is also self-employed, sat down to figure out their health care plans. They went straight to WAhealthplanfinder.org and were surprised by how seamless and easy the experience was. Even when they had questions, those questions were answered thoughtfully and quickly. “It was just easy to figure out what it was that we wanted to do and how to do it.”
As a self-employed musician, Chris has been buying health insurance on the open market for years. He found himself consistently frustrated about how complicated and byzantine the process of trying to comparison shop for health insurance was, “As somebody who is educated and has a lot of free time on his hands, and is actually interested in health care policy, it has been really difficult for me to get my head wrapped around what my insurance covered, and what it didn’t cover.”
His own experiences trying to navigate the complex world of health insurance and the trying experiences of friends are the basis of his passion for health care reform. “I got more and more passionate about health care and health care policy as I started to discover that I was not alone and that I have friends in rock bands who have pre-existing conditions and chronic conditions who couldn’t find health insurance. I have a couple of friends who ended up with cancer and ended up going bankrupt because they got dropped [by their insurance carriers].” As part of the Affordable Care Act, pre-existing conditions can no longer be used to exclude people from care coverage. It also bans insurers from placing lifetime or yearly limits on what they will cover for a member’s medical care.
Chris’ passion for health care awareness became abundantly clear when, halfway through our interview, he stopped to help a woman who had approached a nearby enrollment table, looking for assistance. The older woman was having trouble accessing information regarding coverage for herself and her disabled mother. Chris answered a few of her questions, then escorted her to an enrollment specialist for further assistance. The woman, happy to have been helped, clearly had no idea a rockstar had been the one to help her.
Chris went on to tell me how he and his wife opted for Community Health Plan of Washington’s Community HealthEssentials plan. He said the decision was simple and based solely on one thing: Community Health Plan of Washington is not-for-profit. “The fact that any profit is ever involved in the well-being of human beings just seems crazy to me. I’ve long believed that the community of Community Health just makes sense to me.” He went on to explain, quite earnestly, “I just feel that if there’s one agreement that I wish that we could make with one another as a society, it’s that we can take care of one another on that level. I feel like Community Health Plan of Washington is a step further along in that mission than a lot of the other options.”
Throughout the event, Chris posed for photos and chatted with students, urging them to take the initiative to learn about their enrollment options. “Most of the people I’ve talked to are close to the cut-off,” ACA allows for people up to age twenty-six to participate on their parents’ insurance plans, “they’ve just never even thought about health insurance. This is such an easy thing to hand someone a postcard and say, ‘Go here. 90% of your questions are going to be answered just by visiting the website. It’s not that hard, and it’s so much easier than it was.’”
“It’s important to be able to connect with anyone who has questions just from the perspective of, ‘I’m buying insurance through The Exchange and it was complicated and now it’s less complicated.’ And that’s pretty easy to talk about.”