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The Evolution of O+

An Alternative Health Exchange

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Other musicians and artists sometimes can't wait that long, something O+ organizers realized after the very first festival in 2010. Then, practitioners and O+ organizers received frequent e-mails from artists, asking questions about health issues they were experiencing on the road. Armed with those e-mails, organizers and practitioners knew the next step was making O+ a year-round effort, which meant linking patients to systems that afforded them health care outside of the festival.

So starting at the 2011 O+ Festival, Josefski and others were actively helping insured and uninsured musicians and artists access the Institute for Family Health's network, which spreads from New York City to Albany and charges patients on a sliding scale while helping them navigate insurance benefits, especially related to the Affordable Care Act. The Institute also links patients —including O+ performers—with social workers, who help them apply for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and family planning.

By giving musicians and artists that link to year-round care, O+ began to evolve from a one-shot festival to a siren that attracts performers from across the country to receive care.

"For a weekend we provide a window for the artists and musicians and volunteers who participate," says Josefski. "And what we're really trying to do now is help people access the systems that exist."

O+ alumni enrolled in the Institute for Family Health's network are given the O+ Institute Access Card, which serves as a reminder to take advantage of the Institute's services. Artists and musicians can also sign up for a BandAid RX pharmacy discount card, which allows them to fill prescriptions and receive discounts at more than 64,000 pharmacies nationwide.

O+ also organized four bike rides that began at the 2014 festival. And part of the 2015 festival included a one-day wellness expo and conference with 45 booths and four seminars, including one on the nationwide opioid epidemic.

The success of O+—granted 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2014—in uniting the Kingston community revealed a template that other communities could use in helping to solve their local health care issues. So in 2013 O+ launched its first Chicago festival. Two years later, the festival spread to the San Francisco suburb of Petaluma. This year it launched the Bronx Health + Wellness Expo, a one-day combination of health education, screenings, yoga, martial arts, dance, and live music. And in May 2017 O+ will expand to the Boston suburb of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

All of this happened because the signs were clear that creative people needed year-round care. "We were so surprised with how successful year one was," says Concra, who says besides sending e-mails about health issues to O+ organizers, artists would also send e-mails to other artists extolling the O+ model. "That's how this has been able to grow. This really is a grassroots movement based on localism, and based on people listening to each other."

STANDING BY ITS MISSION

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, more than 16 million previously uninsured Americans have gained health coverage, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. But high deductibles and a limited range of care options have either cramped the newly insured, or have deterred some uninsured from shopping the marketplace. Thus, O+ organizers say the ACA has only made its mission more important, since through O+ Kingston, performers—even if they're uninsured—get linked to the Institute for Family Health, providing them social workers who help them navigate available programs.

O+ is searching for similar partnerships with federally qualified health centers in Petaluma and Haverhill, and is in discussions with one in Chicago. Meanwhile, 115 performers and volunteers received care during the 2015 O+ Chicago festival. In Petaluma in 2015, 97 performers and volunteers received care, and practitioners handed out 263 vouchers that performers could exchange for care with specific O+-affiliated volunteer providers outside of the festival. In Kingston, 94 practitioners volunteered to treat 222 patients in 2015.

Concra says O+ communities typically blend robust music and art scenes with open dialogue about how to change the health care system, though their size, composition, and needs could be extremely different.

"The neighborhood in Chicago is a different animal than Haverhill, Massachusetts, but the thing that doesn't change is the one-on-one personal interaction, and the desire to change the system," Concra says. Ultimately, O+ provides a platform for people across America to discuss how to treat all members of the creative community, regardless of insurance status.

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