Health

Passion jobs versus healthcare benefits 

Whether it’s taking on multiple jobs or declining work, some artists must arrange ways to attain affordable healthcare

In Canada, many services like vision care, dental care and pain management like physiotherapy are not covered by provincial insurance plans. This is also the case for prescription drug coverage. 

Some people need help with extra healthcare costs more than others. For example, people who require medications may need assistance with costs, as well as someone in need of frequent dental work and vision care. 

This has led to some Canadian artists taking on two or even three jobs to fulfil different needs. One job may be an artistic “passion job” that brings joy and a sense of purpose, while other jobs may be imperative to gain access to healthcare coverage. 

Workplace benefits

Katherine Andrews, an up-and-coming tattoo artist living in downtown Toronto, balances her time tattooing with a full-time job at Loblaws where she stocks shelves overnight. Andrews says that she would love for her passion to be her primary job.

“The thought of being a full-time tattoo artist sounds great,” she says. However, she currently maintains a full-time job at Loblaws to take care of her health with their Manulife benefits package. Andrews mentions using her benefits for crucial services, like regular eye tests. 

She also uses the benefits to avoid high dental costs. “I definitely need benefits to get my teeth fixed, cavities filled and for cleanings,” she says. 

Andrews notes the struggle for young people to find jobs with benefits. “I think it’s hard to come across a job that is entry-level with decent benefits,” she says. 

If Andrews left her job at Loblaws, it would mean losing the benefits package. It would also require Andrews to lose the income she needs while she broadens her artistic abilities. “Staying at Loblaws will always be tempting,” she says. “It’s crucial to stay as I continue on my art path.” 

Sacrificing jobs for healthcare 

Juggling passion jobs and other full-time work can affect healthcare access in other ways. 

Grace Thompson is an actor and playwright located in Toronto. While her acting and writing don’t provide consistent pay, she says she loves her second job as a public speaking instructor for kids. In contrast to Andrews, Thompson notes that she doesn’t have healthcare benefits and relies on Ontario’s Trillium Drug Program, which provides help to low income people in need of prescription drug coverage. 

Thompson suffers from adult-onset Still’s disease, a rare form of inflammatory arthritis. If she were to pay out of pocket for her medication, Actemra, she would have to shell out close to $700 a month. As a result, she ensures she qualifies for the Trillium Drug Program and has to strategically plan how much income she earns to continue to do so. 

To qualify for the Trillium Drug Program, Ontarians need to earn below a certain amount every year. Crossing this income threshold even slightly could be the difference between paying nothing or paying a high amount for prescription drugs, and such is the case for Thompson. “Without the Trillium, it’s close to $10,000 a year,” she says.

Thompson also says that becoming more financially successful with acting and writing would  mean she no longer qualifies for the program. If she were to earn over the threshold, the extra income might not be worth it as it would go towards paying for medication. 

“I worry about that all the time,” she says. “If I get successful, I would have to start paying out of pocket for this medication that allows me to live, basically.”  

For Thompson and other actors, there are limited choices when it comes to extended healthcare. Many actors work freelance and have sporadic schedules, which can make it difficult to hold down a full-time job with benefits. 

Thompson notes that there are actors unions that offer benefits, specifically a union called the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), which provides representation for Canadian actors. The Actra Fraternal Benefit Society is a not-for-profit insurance company offering healthcare coverage to ACTRA members. 

Thompson considered this option and weighed the pros and cons of joining a union but was stopped short by the cost, as unions require fee payments. This includes a $1600 initiation fee, which is a large sum to pay upfront. For now, she feels reliant on the Trillium Drug Program. 

While this option works for her, it also constrains her ability to find success in the industry she is passionate about.

“Let’s say I got a commercial gig. It’s a double-edged sword,” she says. “It’s extra income, but it may take me over the income limit to qualify for free medication.” 

Although this constraint is tough and Thompson’s health is of utmost importance, she feels secure with her career path.

“I wouldn’t give it up, I love it,” she says. “Teaching is sustainable. The after-school programs mean I have the daytime to myself, so I’m very much able to do my art.”

Thompson also weighs the pros and cons of building her acting portfolio and her Trillium Drug Program eligibility. While she has to choose her acting jobs carefully, she won’t let her illness stand in the way of doing what she loves.

About the author

Brittany is a reporter for Youth Mind. When she isn’t working hard to become a full-time writer, she can be found making a dinner reservation, rewatching her favourite movies, or reading about True Crime.

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