Amanda Palmer, Tweeting On Health Insurance, Hits A Nerve

Hat tip to Martha Bebinger who writes on her Healthcare Savvy blog about musician/performer/social media phenomenon Amanda Palmer’s new fascination with health insurance.

Amanda Palmer tweets on health insurance and her ever-reliable fans respond. (Photo:

Here’s the story behind Palmer’s #InsurancePoll:

It all started when Palmer, casually reading The Sunday Times and tweeting on the train, came across Nick Kristof’s heartbreaking column this weekend about his old friend and college roommate dying of prostate cancer in large part because he had no health insurance (and as a result, continuously delayed medical care until he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer). Palmer writes on her blog that the column moved her deeply:

it hit a nerve with me, and i sent a few musing tweets about my own experiences with insurance…

most small-to-mid-level musicians i know don’t have health insurance. some musicians find tricky ways, some pay, most take the risk & pray.

when i was in my early twenties, buying my own insurance would have been equal half my rent. it just didn’t seem like an option. (cont…)

my parents had just watched the death of my step-brother (uninsured when stricken with a disease) almost destroy the family bank…(cont).

…and so they DEMANDED i get insurance. we fought. they offered to pay half. i agreed. i was lucky. many aren’t. think about it. #AndVote.

…and then people starting musing back at me, in their own tweets, about their own experiences with insurance. i could tell i’d hit somewhat of a nerve with THEM, and then it occurred to me that’d it’d probably lead to a fascinating cross-section of
information if i asked everybody on my feed what their current situation was…

So Palmer decide to conduct a little survey and almost immediately, her 698K Twitter followers began to respond:

quick twitter poll. 1) COUNTRY?! 2) profession? 3) insured? 4) if not, why not, if so, at what cost per month (or covered by job)?

…and my feed EXPLODED. EXPLODED. i found out that twitter has a twitter LIMIT (you can’t tweet more than 100 tweets/RTs in an hour – which is probably to prevent actual pornbots and such) and i went to “twitter jail” twice. but the force of what people wanted to share was unstoppable. i think i probably got more than 2k responses to the question. i only wish that i could have shared every single response, because the story it’s all telling is huge. deep. painful. crazy.

Now, she’s heard from teachers and nurses, a British doctor with free NHS care, “thank goodness” and a U.S. writer who lost her coverage when she left an abusive spouse and now can’t afford insurance at all. Two breast cancer survivors tweeted that they couldn’t get coverage because they are deemed “high-risk.” The response was so overwhelming that Palmer recruited a volunteer to help tally the data:

the results, as DM’d to me a few hours ago by @aubreyjaubrey:
– preliminary info from first 156 responses indicates 24.5% of US respondents do not have insurance because of cost.
– 31.4% of responses were from outside of US. all but one person had some kind of compulsory of government supported healthcare – (that one person was denied)
– 24.4% of those abroad have some employer/private insurance for optometry and dental. individual costs from $45-$90/month. around $250/mo for a family.
– based on responses, Germany appears to be the only other country with extortionate health care costs.

The stories on her blog keep rolling in. Here’s one:

My husband and I both worked full time and had no insurance for ourselves, but had our daughter covered through public aid for $15 a month. When he noticed an odd swelling/spot on his tounge in 2005, our only option was a pay scale clinic to have it checked out. The waiting list was nearly a month. He waited his time, was seen for a few moments and was quickly diagnosed with an infection and prescribed an antibiotic. He ran the course of antibiotics and there was no improvement, so he made another appointment with the clinic, which was about another month long wait. In the meantime his tongue became pretty frightening and I made him go to the emergency room. They informed us that the spot on his tongue was actually oral cancer. We made all of the necessary appointments, which was quite difficult being uninsured, and were notified that being “cash” patients, we would have to pay for services prior to receiving. We gathered what money we could by selling things and getting help from family. We paid for the scan of his head which showed an extremely small cell on the tongue. The doctor was pretty optimistic in the treatment and recovery. He endured 6 weeks of radiation and could not work. In that time we were able to get him enrolled in public aid and get a medical card. After the radiation, things were looking up until a lump was noticed on his neck. Suddenly now that we had insurance, there were so many tests available to us. They performed numerous tests and revealed that not only did he have oral cancer, but it had spread from his lungs which was now at stage 4. Within 2 months the cancer spread throughout his entire body including his brain. He died 6 months after being first diagnosed with a very small, curable, oral cancer. I get SOOOOO angry thinking that from day 1, if we had insurance, the doctors would have ran all possible tests from the get go instead of waiting for us to raise the funds for a small scan on the concentrated area. I think of all the wasted time spent in line at clinics only to be passed off like we didn’t matter. I became a widow at 26 and my daughter is growing up without her father all because of one simple card we didn’t have in our wallets.

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  • Lee Jarm

    For anyone who thinks healthcare is “free” in other countries you need to stop kidding yourselves. The incentives may be better aligned, the system is better administered perhaps – mostly because it is consolidated into a single public payer (the state), but it is not “free” as is often talked about in other posts.
    A previous post indicated that the extra cost of paying 15k/ year for insurance would compel them to move to Canada. The citizens of Canada still pay for their insurance – it is akin to the individual mandate or requirement to have insurance under the MA insurance scheme and also under Obamacare – Canadians, and any other citizens of developed markets whose insurance is provided by the state fund these services in the form of higher taxes. And if anyone is paying attention to words like “fiscal crisis,” and “global recession” and “austerity” coming out of Europe these are the very programs that these countries are considering to scale back or eliminate.
    I am very much in favor of healthcare reform in the US – in my opinion it is more a matter of diversion of resources – we seem to want to cut taxes which basically means not funding services. Small government supporters says its the states’s responsibiltiy which puts the states in the position where they have to be the bad guys to raise taxes. People don’t want to pay taxes and I would hazard to guess it is mostly because the collected tax revenue is not spent wisely – if people got what they paid for they would likely be more appreciative of public services. Instead, our monies our shipped overseas to protect national security and that isn’t even being administered all that well.
    How long can a country continue to remain competitive if it is spending a large chunk of its (borrowed) treasure overseas and recouping very little from the expenditure.
    Those funds would be better used and would serve to advance our society more effectively if used for education and realigning healthcare, and to support an effective jobs program – administered either at the federal or state level.

  • ANNA

    I don’t ‘get’ the demonizing of
    everything socialist, as if we don’t already have many of our services
    delivered that way. Public education, police and fire protection,
    transportation, social security benefits and much more are already
    socialized services. Medicare for those over 65 is another example of a
    socialized service we’ve had since 1965 that most seniors love. Many
    liberals lament that Medicare for All was there for the taking during
    the 2009 health care reform discussions. If it were that easy, the
    President would have acted on it. But it wasn’t that easy. Why? The
    health insurance goons axed it.They aren’t going to allow their cash cow
    of 31 cents on every premium dollar to be slaughtered without a
    multimillion dollar fight. How EVER would their stockholders continue to
    gamble on Wall St without our premium dollars? How EVER would their
    CEO’s continue to rake in such exorbitant salaries and stock options? If
    we had Medicare for All they’d be ‘history’! So they’ll keep up this
    ruse for as long as they can get away with it….’til the American
    people finally see they’re being ripped off and demand single-payer, not
    for profit Medicare for All. Alternatively, now that the ACA has been
    enacted, Medicare for All could ‘evolve’ into being. When the health
    insurance cartels can’t make enough off of us anymore due to the ACA’s
    ‘new rules’, perhaps they’ll finally get out of the health insurance
    business. It won’t happen overnight. But either way, it WILL
    happen…and you can help it along by supporting Medicare for All. Oh,
    and it’ll save us $400 billion a year while covering everyone. Don’t you
    think it’s about time? I do.

  • lauriem36A

    My friend’s 30 year old daughter, working mother of 2 and an Italian citizen, had a diagnosis of a form of cancer, all the scans, treatments, surgeries etc, and it cost her all of 10 euros for a prescription. That is a country that respects its citizens. The super-rich in our country want the insurance companies to continue to profit. There is no reason not to have universal healthcare, or Medicare for all. Let us pay the government directly and make sure the money stays in the Medicare fund, not general funds. It is a moral disgrace that people die for lack of affordable care.


    What about the fact that Amanda Palmer didn’t want to employ her musicians on the most recent tour, so she had them work for free, and clearly she did not give them insurance? What right does she have to pretend she understands how it is for people who suffer at the hands of cheap employers when she, herself, is a cheap employer?

  • Virginia

    Bravo Amanda!! I agree with Beth. But, there IS an organization committed to healthcare for all…see PNHP was started by public health physicians in 1985! Does anyone wonder why there is no political will in the US? PNHP started in 1985 with the inception of “managed care”, also viewed by many of us as for-profit healthcare. In this case “healthcare” is an oxymoron, isn’t it? Shame on us… we are being SO abused as a people. We, the people, need to be at the ramparts: ie, really nagging our local and national politicians, and our investigative journalists… let’s get on this, now.

    The Affordable Care Act is a very modest but ambitious beginning. Why would anyone want to repeal it? Maybe because the ACA is not good for business. I think that our President knew it would never happen b/o the gigantic footprint of insurance lobbyists; so he took the chance and ran with it. It is now or never, America.

  • CircusMcGurkus

    Single payer. Medical care is a right.

    I am so sorry for the woman who lost her husband. The doctors were more
    concerned about their reimbursements than the care they gave to the
    patient. This is a lapse of ethics which is all too common. Professionals should ALWAYS put
    their client/patient/investor FIRST before the BMW, before the concern
    about cost, before everything.

    Cover everyone with taxes; cut out the middle men insurers; cap medical salaries (with tuition reimbursement for medical school); prohibit doctors from consulting for drug/med device companies as a sideline (totally fine as a career choice); establish patient advisers who are not affiliated with any institution and who have no conflict of interest who can help coordinate care for the patient and a physician adviser who can do the same for doctors to link them with the newest, best information out there…even if the best care is a placebo or acupuncture or herbs or animal assisted therapy, hospice care or any one of the myriad things that do not put a dime into doctors’ or hospitals’ pocket. Require teams of professionals if the patient requests it and force collaboration to improve care and reduce costs. No doctor can know it all. But every patient, regardless of employment or socioeconomic status or place of birth deserves the highest and best care.

    I know the stories were from all over, but our medical care in MA is not just incredibly expensive, it is pretty awful. We rank near the bottom of states in regard to delivery of services. Hospitals get high rankings due to huge grants they can attract, not actual patient services. Never met worse, more arrogant and more inaccurate medical folks than the providers in big, expensive MA signature hospitals where profits come first and patients come last.

    • Easyforyoutoberighteous

      Not even Amanda Palmer can afford to give her services away for free. She asked for money from her fans to finance her latest album. I don’t know what you do for a living, but I would be very interested to hear how many shirts you have given away at your store because a homeless man’s was dirty, how many free meals you have given away at your restaurant because someone was hungry (not just food you were going to throw away anyway), or how many alcoholics on the street you invited into your place of business so they’d be safe. Hospitals do this every day. You? Your righteous criticism of doctors, who take on hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to take care of the sick while their college friends make millions as bankers is at best foolish, but is more likely hypocritical. Hospitals give away more free services than any other industry who could otherwise house the homeless (hotels), feed the hungry (restaurants), or clothe the cold (retail). Why not hold all of humanity to the same standard? Or better yet, step up and help.

  • Chad Vincent IV

    Im for and against. I like the idea not having to worry about healthcare while i venture out and start a new business and just plain caring for another individual. Im against having to pay for preventive issues like obesity caused by over eating and lack of exercise. Why should i have to pay for them to burden the system because they are fat from neglecting their bodies? When people stop feeding their fucking mouth garbage ill support universal Healthcare for all.

    • A super-grateful Canadian

      This is one of those “solution in search of a problem” things. Most crisis medical insurance situations aren’t caused by neglect or bad habits; they’re caused by delaying medical care until it becomes an emergency, because people simply don’t have access to affordable preventative care. The idea that single-payer systems would place the burden of the health problems of lazy, fat smokers on taxpayers is a myth perpetuated by insurance companies. All you have to do to see the truth of that is look at other countries with universal health care – Canada, Australia, the UK – and studies correlating mandatory national healthcare with economic stability and upward mobility. Universal healthcare places a smaller amount of the burden on a greater number of people. Rather than creating hardship for the citizenry, it stabilizes huge sectors of the economy.

  • beth

    The employer based health insurance system of the US is an outdated and unnecessary relationship. People should have health insurance regardless of their employment status. Why is there no discussion about how this system locks people into jobs and professions they may not want to be in? It’s a system that limits our ability to pursue career opportunities in other fields because we cannot be without healthcare. What about people who would start businesses, go back to school, change careers and cannot all because of health care? It’s ridiculous. Why are we settling for a system that does not serve us?

    • CircusMcGurkus

      Exactly! We are settling for it because people are terrified of “socialized medicine”. They have never been to France or Israel or Britain or Cuba or any one of another dozen such places that have outstanding medical care paid for by all and provided to all. The delivery of services is BETTER because they have incentives to collaborate and improve care.

      • beth

        absolutely, i couldn’t agree more with you and virgina. live abroad, in a country as far away as australia or as close as canada (both with “socialized medicine” and robust capitalist economies), and get a taste of what its like to live without this worry.

        ours seems to be a system that only works when everything in a person’s life is working optimally. the career is going well, you are healthy, your company is large, doing well and can afford to pass on great health care insurance etc. but it leaves you incredibly vulnerable when life gets more complicated. when layoffs occur, when illness strikes (you, a spouse or a child and you are unable to work), when an accident happens right when you were between jobs or about to start another.

        there are so many scenarios that could leave a person /family in a vulnerable situation where they could find themselves without health insurance at a time when they need it most. this means that we have a system that only works part of the time for some of the people. that’s not good enough and it’s not fair. what can we do to push single payer in massachusetts?

      • Catmancer

        That’s not the only only problem. The second we get “socialized medicine” insurance companies will do anything and everything in their power to get it abolished because they wouldn’t be making any money. Their thought process would be, “fuck helping other people. Where’s our money?”

  • duckyweb

    Some of these stories are simply heartbreaking and should make us aware our system is broken and will need all the affordable care act can do and more to fix.

  • Sennebec

    The system is simply broken. My son’s company filed for bankruptcy and his health insurance was gone in a moment. The company sent an e-mail about signing up for Mass Health with a next day deadline–in the middle of the night. So he had to wait a month for coverage.

  • PithHelmut

    Vermont is bringing in a single-payer health care system. Each state could do the same. The one in Mass is still prohibitive. You’d think after all these years we’d get it right. We can’t keep relying on the establishment. We should find an alternative system ourselves.

    • dashifen

      My wife and I are seriously considering moving to Vermont, despite the hardship of doing so, simply to take part in their single-payer system. I think that Oregon was also looking into similar, too, but I know less about it.

  • jana

    ugh. this is all too true. even here in Massachusetts with our RomneyCare. Next year, we’ll be above the income limit for any state assistance and will need to pay over $15K out of pocket for our health insurance. We’re not sure how this is going to work. We’ve been considering moving to Canada.

    • Martha Bebinger

      Hey Jana – will you send me an email with your contact info? I’m – thanks!

      • Esmertina Bicklesnit

        Ha! I just had an eerie “whoa” moment. My real name is Jana. I was like, “omg, Martha is talking to me?!” Then I saw the comment by a Jana, above. Phew!

    • Phoebe

      I’m also In MA, and after losing my job, am now required to pay $1800 per month for my family’s insurance. That’s almost exactly as much as I get in unemployment insurance each month, and more than our rent. And we don’t qualify for assistance because my husband makes “too much” money owning his own small painting business. Yet we don’t know if he will have work month to month. It’s absolutely insane.