(oil on canvas, 40 ins. x 30 ins.)
Artist’s Note (2012)
The making of this painting was filmed for ZDF German television (The 2012 video link no longer works). A ZDF crew set up in my studio to film me painting President Obama's and presidential candidate Mitt Romney's portraits for a show ZDF did about the 2012 US elections. ZDF bought the paintings. The portraits hang in the Georgetown ZDF office, Washington DC.
PRESIDENT OBAMA, Incumbent US President running for reelection in 2012 (written in 2012 with some updated links.)
How did I end up stumping for this president and his signature legislation, The Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare???
I started Art As Social Inquiry in 2008. At that time I was a co-owner of a restaurant. About ten years into being a small business owner, I found myself wanting to hire as many part-time employees as possible to avoid having to pay healthcare premiums for full time workers.
My co-owner/ husband and I were hands-on managers of our small businesses. We formed a group for insurance purposes. As such, the insurance companies would sell us a group policy. As a group, we also offered all our full time managers a health insurance benefit. The HIPPA law as we understood it, said we had to. Our full time managers were doing many of the same day-to-day jobs as we were. This means we were similarly situated. Maybe we could have gotten around the requirement that all similarly situated employees get the same benefits by making ourselves an owner class. But we weren't savvy enough to stretch the requirement or morally inclined to do so.
Yet, health insurance premiums were rising and my business mind proposed we hire as many part time employees as possible to avoid paying the health benefit. Full stop. Wait. If I am thinking this then every small business owner in America was realizing they could save money by sidestepping the requirement that similarly situated full time employees get health benefits by hiring as many part-time employees as possible. And how were we going to have thriving, secure workers build a strong economy when the system incentivized small business employers like us to create a workforce of part-time, uninsured employees?
As a former business manager, I now understand how healthcare inflation, high administrative costs, and profit-driven practices harmed consumers and drove up my costs. My business saw healthcare premiums rise 4%-20% every year for 12 years. Yet, we had no major claims. Something had to give.
I set out to learn exactly how access to healthcare works in the US, and to do it in a fun way -.making art. I was looking to paint every kind of story I could find from the happily insured to the most horrific of circumstances.
In 2010, the new healthcare law -- the Affordable Care Act a.k.a Obamacare --entered American life. By this time I had been painting healthcare stories for almost two years. Like most Americans I wasn't sure exactly what the new law would mean. But I did think I would be winding down the portrait series on healthcare in the US because the new law would surely address some of the problems of access to care that I was hearing through my work. And that would be the end of it. Wrong.
I didn't see the GOP's push-back to Obamacare coming. The Right's vitriol set my course. I would study the new healthcare law. I would know for myself. I learned that the Affordable Care Act is like a Swiss watch with many interdependent working parts. The law is comprised of ten titles and unfolds in stages until it is fully implemented in 2014.
Some parts of the law are designed to slow out-of-control growth and save money by shifting some payment models from fee-for-service to rewards for good health outcomes. Other parts focus on prevention giving seniors incentives to get check-ups so disease is caught early and becomes much less expensive to treat.
Consumer protections are written into the law such as one requiring insurance companies to spend at least of 80 cents of every dollar on actual care and not on advertising and bonuses. Other titles address paying for the law.
After much study, and about 30 portraits into the project, I decided to come out strong for the law. By this time I had encountered bankruptcies due to medical bills, early deaths from lack of access to healthcare, people stuck in jobs they hated just for the insurance. The personal stories coupled with an in-depth study of Obamacare compelled me to speak up and to do so very loudly.
If not me then who?
I took the portraits and signs to Washington DC for 5 months. I stood in front of the US Supreme Court and Capitol, leaving myself open to every kind of opposition out there. Tea Party opponents to the ACA changed slogans, "Don't tread on my Constitution!" I chanted, "Information not slogans!"
Sadly, I found too many Americans to be uninformed and the victims of a political smear campaign to confuse them. People from all over the country confronted me outside the Supreme Court and Capitol buildings. Those opposed to the healthcare law said much the same thing like a mantra they had heard on hate-speech talk radio. They were prepared to vote against their own bests interests based on a radio host's exploitation of their desire to be good patriots.
Today I use the portraits as a way to explain the healthcare law. I expect I will be adding to this healthcare series for the rest of my life even while I take on other subjects for social inquiry. I will continue to document, through the lives of real people, how access to healthcare evolves in this country. I see Obamacare as a start not an end on the journey to universal access to healthcare in the US. We rank last among first-world countries like ours in access to healthcare. It's time to change that.