MOTT HAVEN — When Lawrence Parker came down with the flu last year, he felt lucky: it wasn’t so serious that he had to see a doctor.
Parker, a self-employed artist who lacks health insurance, has managed to avoid the doctor’s office for the past eight years. But with every new cough, he worries that a hospital visit — and the crushing out-of-pocket payments that will follow — is not far off.
A new program at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center on East 149th Street aims to connect uninsured artists like Parker with medical care by allowing them to trade their talents for treatment. Through the barter program, musicians and actors would perform for sick patients and painters could decorate the walls of their rooms, and in return, the artists would earn reduced-cost health care.
“Everyone wins,” Tony Award-winning actor and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda said during a press event Monday. “Artists with talent to burn get medical care,” Miranda said, and the hospital staff and patients get to enjoy original artwork.
Artists must first enroll in the hospital’s sliding fee system, which is designed for uninsured individuals who earn too much to qualify for public insurance, but still need help paying for health care.
Then the artists must agree to do creative work at the hospital: read poems to patients, play an instrument at a hospital event, paint a mural in a clinic lobby or other activities. For every hour of service, the artists earn $40 worth of healthcare.
Many actors, dancers, painters and poets could benefit from the program, called the “Lincoln Art Exchange,” said Renata Marinaro, the Eastern Region director of health services for The Actors Fund, a national human services organization for entertainment professionals.
“A lot of actors fall in the lower- to mid-income range,” Marinaro said, “so they don’t qualify for public insurance, but they don’t make enough to afford private insurance.”
Twice as many people in show business lack health insurance as compared with the national average, Marinaro said. She added that the minimum monthly premium for private health insurance in this region is about $920 – an expense that is beyond the budget of many artists, whose average annual income is $24,000.
In addition to the Actors Fund, other local cultural groups, including the Bronx Council on the Arts and the Bronx Museum, will help recruit artists to join the program. Participating artists can use the credits they earn in the exchange to pay for reduced-cost doctor visits, laboratory tests, emergency care, surgery, dental work, prescriptions and other treatment.
Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn launched a similar program in 2005. Woodhull and Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center are both part of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the nation’s largest municipal health care organization.
Parker, the uninsured painter who lives in the South Bronx, said Monday that he plans to enroll in the art exchange.
“Every little thing that goes wrong now,” said Parker, 50, “you wonder if something worse is looming.”
He said that a hospital official offered him 1,000 credits — worth $1,000 of medical care at Lincoln — to paint a scene from the 149th Street neighborhood where the medical center is located.
“Each neighborhood has a story I need to bring out,” Parker said. And now, with health care less of a concern, he added, “I’m looking to do as many neighborhoods as possible.”