N.O. musicians worry budget cuts could affect their health care

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Steve Rohbock makes his living playing piano. He played a tune on his keyboard Friday afternoon. Ian Butler-Severson is a local guitarist. Both musicians rely on the New Orleans Musicians Clinic for their health care needs, but now they are nervous about the cuts in funding the governor's administration is proposing.

"I'm Type 1 diabetic, I've got a thyroid problem, [I've] got glaucoma," Rohbock said.

Without the free health services he gets at the clinic, he would be in a tough spot.

"Eight hundred dollars just for my diabetes medicine - that stuff is not cheap," Rohbock said.

Butler-Severson said the clinic was there for him after a serious injury, and beyond.

"I stepped wrong, tore my ACL and the Musicians Clinic ordered an MRI, found out it was torn and within a month I was having ACL surgery," he said showing the surgical scar on his leg.

For musicians, many of whom do not have steady paychecks the services the clinics provide are invaluable.

"When you're focusing on you know your art, you know, it's a very nice resource to have," said Butler-Severson.

But the Jindal administration wants to strip away the nearly $8 million in state funds that helps not only the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, but 40 others in the New Orleans area.

The state is facing a $1.6 billion budget shortfall for the fiscal year that starts in July, and Jindal is looking to lessen the state's spending.

But Jim Pate of Habitat for Humanity said losing the free or low-cost health care would be a serious setback for many musicians who were able to buy homes in the Musicians Village after Katrina, as well other citizens who cannot afford to buy their own health coverage.

"It is going to be devastating to monthly budgets and make it very, very hard to continue making their monthly house payments," said Pate.

"This funding is absolutely critical, it's $7.7 million coming from the state, but we get such a huge federal match. So overall, the program is close to $30 million worth of health care for right here in Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes," said State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans.

The Musicians Clinic serves 2,500 people. Bethany Bultman, president and director of the New Orleans Musicians Clinic and Assistance Foundation is equally concerned about the proposed funding cut.

"Music is the background of tourism in Louisiana, but yet the musicians who are vital to this industry have absolutely no health coverage except for what we can provide at the clinic," said Bultman.

Moreno said she is working with rural lawmakers to remove the threat. She said funds for clinics in rural Louisiana also take a hit in the governor's budget.

"So what we're looking for is about $13 million to be able to restore these services," said Moreno.

She said fees are being considered, as are millions in lottery dollars.

"It's a future surplus of future prize money that can only be used towards future prizes. If we changed the statute, we could open up that money," said Moreno.

But if services at community clinics end up being cut, critics of the governor's budget said the working poor will end up in hospital emergency rooms when they're sick - and that is not good for the ill or the state's bottom line.

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