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Federal Agencies in Milwaukee Partner to Connect Artists with Health Insurance


A first-of-its-kind partnership started here in Milwaukee between two federal agencies is working to help artists and other sole-proprietors figure out their health insurance options.

Artists are among those who often couldn't afford health insurance unless they had day jobs that offered it or spouses or partners whose insurance covered them as well. But with the Affordable Care Act in place, artists are now accessing the health insurance marketplace, sometimes for the first time.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Small Business Administration launched the partnership in Milwaukee last year.

Catherine Leonis, a Health Insurance Specialist based in the Chicago office of the HHS, says the ACA gives sole proprietors more flexibility and options in accessing health insurance, but many artists don't think of themselves as small businesses.

“[Artists think]...I didn’t really think of myself as a business as an artist, and now I can access something that is much cheaper than what I was going to access without the marketplace,’” Leonis says.

In addition to health care, the SBA is also providing business counseling and programs to help artists access capital to develop their businesses as sole proprietors.

Tammie Clendenning, an Economic Development Specialist at the Milwaukee office of the SBA, says one of the obstacles that artists as small business owners can face is having insufficient collateral when applying for business loans. With the SBA accreditation, the small businesses have a reference that will help them get the money they need.

The HHS/SBA partnership is reaching out to artists through a series of webinars. The interagency collaboration has been quite successful, attracting the attention of other parts of the country who are hoping to adopt the model.

Leonis and Clendenning advise artists to visit their websites and call 211 to find where to get local help with tax information and health care information.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.