It's all copays and jazz hands for this NYC musical! Creators Eileen Conneely, Emily Lowinger, and Stephanie Regina are shining a new light on health insurance with their hilarious and educational stage show Explanation of Benefits. The production covers everything from deductibles to premiums to let you know exactly what you're getting yourself into when it comes to healthcare.
We spoke with Conneely to give us the inside scoop on how the team took the painstaking subject of health insurance and turned it into a lighthearted show for everyone to enjoy.
Tell us a little about your project and what viewers can expect.
Explanation of Benefits is the musical answer to all your health insurance questions. Info-tainment at its finest. The show explores how the hell we got into this mess and how you can defend yourself in the wild, wild west that is health insurance.
You’ll laugh at the apocalyptic absurdity of it all. You’ll cringe as you see history repeat itself.
You won't be able to get the health insurance version of 'Bills, Bills, Bills' out of your head!
You'll leave with a little more rage, and a little more hope.
What inspired you to create this project?
Emily decided to quit her full-time job and go freelance, just after she turned 26. She got a catastrophic health insurance plan, figuring she’d go with the cheapest plan possible (about $170 per month), and understanding that the deductible was about $7,000 and the only things that were covered were “preventative.” It was all fine and well until out of nowhere, she got a rash and found herself in a dilemma: to let it run its course or to seek medical care, knowing that she’d have to pay out-of-pocket? Once she did decide to see a dermatologist she had to decide if she should get a biopsy for this rash, that was continuing to spread, without knowing exactly what it would cost. She felt scared, unsure of what to do, and most of all: angry. She was angry that she had this plan - that at $170 per month still felt pricey - and yet was completely vulnerable and exposed.
At the same time, Stephanie and Eileen were working as office managers in a doctor’s and dentist’s office respectively. They were dealing with these kinds of issues from the other side. Trying to get payments from insurance companies, helping patients understand their coverage, and learning to navigate a system that felt designed to fail both patients and practitioners.
We were angry thinking about how other people were dealing with similar conundrums. When we’d talk to people about it, they had stories. People deciding to risk it and go without health insurance altogether. People who had full-time jobs, yet still paid high premiums for crappy coverage. The whole thing made us feel so angry, like we were all victims of some sick joke. We felt powerless, and the only solution was to write it down and act it out.
What challenges, if any, have you encountered so far? On an intellectual level, one huge challenge is the seemingly never-ending supply of subtopics and stories that fall under healthcare. In writing Explanation of Benefits, we had to make decisions on what pieces of history to include, and obviously that meant leaving other parts out.
Part of the solution to that is creating an EOB series. This past December we wrote and performed a show called AcciDental, which got into why dental care has always been separate from medical care in the US, both in terms of schooling for practitioners and insurance purposes, and the effect that those distinctions are having on people’s health today.
We want to continue to expand Explanation of Benefits and create shows about mental health, reproductive health, and how your workplace affects your health.
Another challenge we face as independent artists challenging the status quo is reaching people amidst all the other noise out there. It can be tough. So please like and subscribe and tell your friends about us :)
How do you think your experiences as a woman in entertainment have influenced this project?
Especially for women who deviate in any way from the media’s image of an ideal woman, you have to make space for yourself. Allowing ourselves to say, ‘My story needs to be told and if you don’t want to tell it, I will’ was an important step for each of us as artists.
It’s also empowering to make work that feels immediate. Healthcare may not be sexy, but it’s something that so many people are dealing with. Plus, we made it sexy ;)
What advice do you have for women seeking to create their own content?
Do it. We need more. Find something you can’t not create. The business is hard. So hard. But having a subject that we’re passionate about has made fighting through the low parts so much easier.
Also, bring along as many people as you can. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve all had fairly flexible day jobs, and have been able to scrape enough together to get the show off the ground. We are always trying to create space for our collaborators to bring themselves fully to the project.
Do you want to get your healthcare musical on? Explanation of Benefits will be going up March 14, April 16, and May 12 at the Caveat in NYC. For tickets and more information, visit the Caveat website.
Images: Arin Sang-urai.
Interview By: Caitlin Arcand