Justin Osborne

Justin Osborne, lead singer of Susto. 

You don’t have to be a doctor to see that touring musicians don’t exactly lead the healthiest lives in the world. Spending most of their time in a cramped van, existing on a diet of cheap beer and fast food, sleeping rarely and at odd hours takes its toll.

On top of that, musicians could run into danger late at night on the road, or might injure themselves while hauling heavy equipment from gig to gig.

But those are risks many self-employed musicians have to take. With most of their pay going right back into the gas money fund, or toward their next album, it can be difficult for many independent artists to afford monthly health insurance payments, even if policies are purchased from the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Exchange, according to Becca Finley, founder of the Charleston Health Alliance for Regional Musicians, better known as CHARM.

“The reality is that musicians and creatives in general don’t have benefits from a company, and their working wages are low, and they literally can’t afford health insurance,” she said.

It has become increasingly difficult for many self-employed individuals to afford health insurance coverage through Obamacare, with premium costs rising year after year, according to The Wall Street Journal and many other news sources.

That’s why Finley started CHARM, a program that provides health insurance subsidies and health insurance counseling for musicians and music industry professionals in the Lowcountry.

It’s part of the local nonprofit organization This Is Noteworthy, which Finley started to support “the entire music ecosystem ... through media programs, education, employment and health care,” she said.

The organization recently partnered with Gigdawg, a local music app company that helps musicians book gigs, and several venues around town for a new music series that will help raise funds to support CHARM’s efforts.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, seven local music venues will host live music shows with a portion of proceeds benefiting CHARM. Finley said she hopes to continue hosting the series every three months.

“We thought that was the best way to not only elevate the music scene in Charleston, but for fans to be able to come out and support that venue and support the musicians for one night,” Finley said.

Since CHARM was launched about a year ago, it has helped seven local musicians pay for health insurance. Finley said the number of musicians CHARM helps and the amount of money they each receive depends entirely on annual fundraising efforts such as the music series being held this weekend.

She added that CHARM has no intention of covering the whole cost of any musician’s health care plan. The program is designed to help musicians pay for coverage, but to also educate them about the process of searching, purchasing and setting aside funds to pay for insurance plans.

“We don’t 100 percent take care of any musician, because it’s really important to us that they start to take some ownership of their own health,” she said.

Justin Osborne, lead singer of the local indie rock band Susto, is one of the musicians who receives subsidies from CHARM.

“It gives me a peace of mind that health is not something I have to sacrifice when I’m going out on tour and I can spend all my time and money focusing on our music and pushing Susto to the next level,” Osborne said. “It’s nice to know people in the city care enough to do that for us and take care of us.”

Finley said if the community helps support CHARM and other similar programs, the Lowcountry could have a better shot at “growing our creative workforce in town.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

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