Music Health Alliance marks 10 years and $100 millions saved in critical music industry support.
It’s no secret that healthcare in America can be tough to navigate—especially for musicians.
But Nashville non-profit Music Health Alliance is making sure the artists who are following their Music City dreams don’t wake up to a healthcare nightmare. And the need for that help is greater than ever.
The past month has been a whirlwind of open-enrollment activity, with a small team aiming to get as many music professionals as possible hooked up with health insurance—and dealing with the fallout of not having it.
“Starting November 1, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. we’ve been booked every hour on the hour, and by December 15, we all absolutely pass out,” says Founder and CEO Tatum Allsep, laughing in that overtired way that removes all doubt of her seriousness. “Our Christmas trees don’t go up until the day before Christmas. We have to pawn off Thanksgiving to our other family members. But we’ll save probably $10 million in healthcare costs.”
To her, that’s a sacrifice worth making, and one the Music Health Alliance has gotten pretty good at. Unfortunately, 75 percent of Nashville’s beloved music ecosystem is self-employed or working for a small business, which means many are underinsured, so when bad things happen, the bills pile up quick. That’s where MHA steps in, 100-precent free and ready to help.
In 2023 the MHA hits its 10-year anniversary of looking after their music industry members (most of whom are Middle Tennessee residents), and they’ve reached some impressive milestones which include: healthcare support for 18,000 underserved people in 49 states; some 2,380 families saved from bankruptcy due to medical bills; a full 28 life-saving heart, liver, kidney, and lung transplants; and the topping on the cake: over $100 million in cost savings. With her devoted staff, Allsep’s non-profit helps those in need navigate the labyrinthine healthcare system, pay off bills or get them reduced, connect patients with doctors, and more. As the 10-year mark approaches, the important role MHA plays in the music industry is all too clear and too often overlooked.
“The music industry, I mean, we’re not firing from both sides of our brain,” Allsep says with a sympathetic chuckle. “We’ve got that creative side going 100 hundred percent. But the analytical side? Well, it’s pretty rare when you meet somebody who’s got both.”
She was once there, too, and like many of her clients, her story starts with a personal crisis. Back in 2002 Allsep was pregnant and had just left a job at MCA Nashville. When her twin boys arrived after 28 weeks, they ended up spending nine more weeks in the NICU. The new family left the hospital with a half-million-dollar tab, and when Allsep got home more bills followed. Even after liquidating every asset, she was deeply overwhelmed. Then she realized something.
“I thought I was the only person in the world who had experienced this,” she says. “But the more people I talked to in our industry, I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening to everybody.’”
Slowly, Allsep learned to negotiate her bills, and got a glimpse behind the scenes by starting Vanderbilt Medical Center’s first Music Industry Relations department. When the Affordable Care Act was passed, she knew her music industry friends had help on the way—they’d just need a translator.
“It was like you needed a PhD just to speak this language,” Allsep says. “[The system] was easy to access, but no one understood how, so I built a template and it’s the same template we use today. What I did is not rocket science. It just removes the profit motive from all healthcare decision making.”
In 2011, Allsep cashed in her corporate 401k (against the advice of everyone she knew), and by 2013 the Music Health Alliance was up and running. It was small and lean, with just a few employees and a simple mandate to “protect, direct, and connect.” They protect by connecting music industry pros with health insurance. They direct by breaking down an overwhelming diagnosis or bill into bite size chunks. And they connect members to others who can help, whether that’s the right doctor for the job, or another organization. The first major test came with the horror of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in 2017, forcing MHA to become nimble and responsive to unforeseen tragedy. So, when COVID hit in early 2020, they were somewhat prepared.
“I hate to say that,” Allsep admits. “But in March when our calls went from, ‘Hey, I’ve got these giant medical bills and this chronic illness,’ to ‘I do not know how I’m going to feed my family,’ we shifted. It was like ‘OK, people need food.’”
First, MHA dipped into the fund started by their first client, famed producer Cowboy Jack Clement, buying $60,000 worth of gift cards from Kroger, Walmart, and Trader Joes. The money went to people all over the nation, beginning with gig musicians, stagehands, and others dependent on live shows, but eventually expanding to engineers, producers, and even agents. All told, Allsep and her team provided 912,000 meals for music makers, and then turned to partners like Spotify and artists like Chris Carrabba to inspire more giving. Crucially, that batch of money went to mental health support, because between 2020 and 2021, requests for mental health assistance increased by 300 percent.
“For the first time, people in our industry stopped and looked in the mirror,” Allsep says. “There were so many different levels of mental- health need, from matters of perspective and personal things to bipolar disorder and chemical imbalances. In our industry, there were resources for inpatient treatment and for addiction, but there was nothing available for talk counseling.”
That problem was addressed with MHA’s Mental Health Fund and it made a world of difference.
“I think we’re at about 2,400 counseling sessions that we’ve paid for, and the outcomes are so positive,” Allsep says. “The stigma is lessening, and people are more open to getting help—and not just from the artist perspective. I mean, business managers were requesting assistance; it affected every level of our industry. And I think that’s not just unique to the music business.”
Artists continued to support the cause, with everyone from Chris Stapleton and Kelsea Ballerini to Rodney Crowell and Dierks Bentley taking part in auctions and events. Then, as the music business slowly came back to life, Allsep was recognized for her efforts. Nowadays she calls her 2021 CMA Humanitarian of the Year Award something she never saw coming.
“During the pandemic our whole industry stopped, but we were busier than I had ever been in my entire life,” Allsep says. “We hadn’t stopped to really reflect on what our tiny little engine of 10 or 11 people had accomplished.”
It’s true that the MHA started small, but now things have changed. As 2022 winds down, MHA has topped $400,000 raised for the year with more than 100 artists taking part in their flagship fundraiser, Heal the Music Day. In turn, MHA pledges to make each of those dollars cover 30 dollars in healthcare costs, and for their big 10th anniversary, Allsep hopes to “blow the doors off.” There’s already a big round of fundraisers planned, including the largest Heal the Music Day yet, and Allsep says any Nashville Lifestyles reader interested in joining a committee for the celebration is welcome to reach out. But in the meantime, the music industry’s need for healthcare assistance hasn’t changed.
“We’ve got a real problem with our healthcare system here, and that is not new news,” Allsep says. “With our industry being so heavily self- employed, contract, and small business [oriented], the need just continues to increase. Our goal is for there never to be a need [for MHA]. But we’ve got a long way to go before we’re there.”
Luckily, people like Allsep and the Music Health Alliance are leading the charge and keeping the spirit of the common good alive.
From Nashville’s Lifestyle Magazine 12-12 Issue: