Photo by CHRIS GLASS, ACA beneficiary
BY JOSH PELTA-HELLER After an epic legislative struggle, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — aka Obamacare — was made the law of the land on March 23rd, 2010. It would, as of this writing, provide health care for 20 million uninsured Americans. “This is a big fuckin’ deal!” as Joe Biden publicly congratulated the president upon officially signing his landmark healthcare bill into federal law. The triumphs of our healthcare system’s largest regulatory overhaul in 50 years are a signature part of Obama’s legacy, championed by the progressive left, by millions of beneficiaries, and by the supporters of a president who after eight years boasts a near-record-high approval rating.
Over the last seven years, disgruntled Republicans voted over sixty times to delay, defund, or repeal the legislation, their efforts rebuffed time and again by vote or veto. But after last November’s election left more power in the hands of the Republican party than it’s enjoyed for almost a century, the law will now face its greatest existential threat: the 115th Congress has vowed to put the ACA to death, as soon as this week.
Having campaigned ardently against Obamacare, President-Elect Trump promised ad nauseam to “repeal and replace” the bill, offering no substantive substitute. Now, having managed to gaslight his way into the White House, Trump and his nascent administration seem to be actively working to forget about that whole “replace” thing, and to repeal the legislation as a matter of priority, in an apparent vacuum of policy, foresight, and empathy. As New Jersey Senator Cory Booker put it, “This is akin to shoving someone off a cliff and as they’re falling down saying, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to figure this out before you get to the bottom.”
Kelley Deal — probably best known for her work with twin-sister Kim, in their seminal ‘90s band The Breeders — has joined the #CoverageMatters campaign to save the ACA. Today, she will appear at the National Press Club in Washington DC, alongside outgoing Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia M. Burwell, to give voice to the health care struggles of the creative class, a demographic she feels will be hit particularly hard by an abrupt loss of affordable access to coverage, as well as the average working person in the Rust Belt, of which she knows a few. A big part of the #CoverageMatters is to get the millions of Americans for whom it has been a lifeline to stand up and share their stories. Yesterday we got Kelley on the horn to tell us about what the ACA means to her and her friends and family and why she was moved to join the fight to save it from the death panelists of the GOP.
PHAWKER: It’s great that you’re doing this.
KELLEY DEAL: I’m a little nervous! [laughs] You know, I talk in like, word salads, and a lot of facial expressions — you know, to supplement — so for me to try to talk intelligently about some sort of issue, it’s not what I do. It’s odd, for me. I mean I can do it, but it’s just like, ahhhhh..
PHAWKER: It’s interesting, often when I talk to musicians, they’ll note a stage fright about having to speak publicly, or a social introversion, but by contrast say it’s much easier to get up and sing to a large audience.
KELLEY DEAL: Totally.
PHAWKER: Why do you think that is, speaking just for you?
KELLEY DEAL: [pauses] I think the manner of communication — like I said, word salads and usually phrases. I guess the expectation when I’m supposed to speak intelligently about something, that implies that I’m gonna speak in complete sentences and kind of have some paragraphs that make sense to each other. But for me — and maybe a lotta other musicians — they kind of talk with their hands, or use their face, or use inflections in their voice [illustrates] that right there! should speak way more than my actual words. My tone! You know, stuff like.. shit like that! Anyway. I guess a different way of communicating.
PHAWKER: I know that your music with The Breeders and your other bands hasn’t been overtly or pointedly political, but I wondered if you could put into context what in particular is driving you toward political activism for this issue, or sort of describe the dog you have in this fight?
KELLEY DEAL: You know it’s interesting, this idea of politicizing stuff. I remember Lollapalooza — back in the early 90s and all of that — I mean it was just a given that if you were out there doing that kind of music anymore, that everybody was political. I remember mean [Jane’s Addiction singer and festival founder] Perry Farrell was really good about that, especially at Lollapalooza. Whether it be a Rock For Choice booth, a Young Republicans booth, a Get Out The Vote booth — you know and they would register voters right there, and obviously it was more left-leaning — but the point was, awareness, action, involvement. And so, I kinda just assumed everybody thought that. And then as you get older, I think to myself, geez, there is this part of me — for chicks nowadays, for girls and stuff — like I can’t want Planned Parenthood or the right of choice, I can’t want that for them more than they want it for themselves. I can’t wait it for them more than they want it. It’s their time. I can tell you, motherfucker, I don’t need an abortion. I am so fuckin’ menopausal, I’m not gonna need that anymore, you know what I’m saying? And thank god, I got mine! I got mine already thank you very much. You know what I’m saying? And I get all twisted up, and I’m thinkin’ about Gloria Steinem, and it was such a big deal — Rock For Choice! All that stuff! And I have to think calm down, calm down, step back, because that’s not my fight. And you know what, to be fair, it may actually not be important to them. And I can’t make it important to them, if it’s not important to them. Either it matters to them, or it doesn’t! So, that’s about Planned Parenthood, which of course — NEWS FLASH! — it shouldn’t be a news flash, but they’re apparently wrapping Planned Parenthood funding up in this. [pauses] And it could be all about that. It could be all about just [legislating] healthcare for women, because that is what it’s about — Planned Parenthood uses no federal funds for abortions. So it must be personal, it must be because I’m a girl, that you wanna do that. Because it cannot possibly be about anything else! It has to be because you hate me, because you’re a misogynist, and you hate women, and that’s why you wanna take this kind of healthcare away. It has to be! Logically. Right?
PHAWKER: It would seem that way, another stab at gender control by old white men.
KELLEY DEAL: There you go, “gender control.” That’s nice.
PHAWKER: It’s funny that you mention that about politicizing music — when I was younger I’d tend to assume that my favorite music icons were by default..
KELLEY DEAL: …liberal. Yeah..
PHAWKER: …right. But then you find out more about people like Joey Ramone or Maureen Tucker from the Velvets, that they’re a little right-wing-nutty…
KELLEY DEAL: …and I just wanna cover my ears and go no no no don’t tell me that!… Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, was there a question there? [laughs]
PHAWKER: Tell me about the logistics for the event in DC — are you gonna eventually be testifying in front of Congress or what?
KELLEY DEAL: Oh god I wish! Oh my god, that would be so awesome. No, let me explain how it got started. Merge Records knows a friend of The Breeders, and Mac [McCaughan] and Laura [Ballance] said, hey, we’re trying to gather some interest about this, this affects musicians, artists, lots of people we know, doesn’t anybody wanna get involved! And I was like hello! This issue’s really important to me! Because I have my insurance through the Marketplace. And I started talking to them, and then they hooked me up with this idea of doing a video, so people came to my house and we did an interview, and I talked about how important it was to me, and what the issues were. And then after they left, I guess they’re planning a specific day for #coveragematters, and really trying to get that out. And they also did a blurb on a skateboarder — I don’t know what the guy’s name is — but the skateboarder’s [wondering] how the hell was he supposed to get covered [because] he’s a skateboarder, which is kinda funny. Anyway, so that’s how it started.
And then I was invited, I think because I’m a musician, self-employed, I’m 55, I’m single, and I have a previous condition. There was no way that I first of all would ever get covered, and second if I was gonna buy a private plan, there’s no way I could ever afford it. With the Affordable Care Act, once that was passed, everything changed for me. And that’s what the story was, that’s how I got involved.
I was invited out there, with Secretary Sylvia Burwell — it’s her final speech, before she leaves office. It’s at the National Press Club, and she’ll be talking about how important this is, and who this affects!
What I can’t get over is, I was ruminating about is it just me? Is it because goddammit I just wanna be a musician and I feel like somebody should pay for my insurance while I schlep about being a musician? You know, and you can look down on what I do for a living, you know… So the first thing I would do is call over to my mom and dad’s [and talk to Joanne] — she’s one of the careworkers for my mom. She voted for Trump. She works full-time at [her] company as a careworker for my mother, who has advanced Alzheimers. And we love her, and she’s so good with my mother — she just gets in her face and says I love you, how ya doin’ today Anne? And she wears what we call “bling,” and my mom looks at the shiny jewelry, you know, and it’s a really sweet relationship. Now, Joanna is not covered. She has no insurance. Her company does not provide it, even if she works 40 hours a week. And this such an important, nurturing job to the structure and thread of society! So like, even if you just think I’m a drunk, drug-addict musician rammin’ about — “you don’t have coverage? Too bad, get a job!” You know, you can’t say that about this beautiful woman, who’s doin’ the work of an angel. But no, she doesn’t have coverage, and she couldn’t afford it!
PHAWKER: She didn’t go through the Obamacare Marketplace for it?
KELLEY DEAL: Well, funnily enough, she is a Trump supporter. And I asked her, why don’t you get health insurance? And I think she might not want to be involved in it. Now she’s in her fifties. And I haven’t talked to her about this [recently], but what I would like to ask her is, why not? I don’t know. But there’s a couple other girls [at the company] who do — one girl works part-time, she goes to school full-time, she lives with her ninety-year-old grandfather — in his house, to help care for him — and she definitely signed up and is in the Marketplace. It’s just all these people that you meet. And then there was a guy over this week, he was helping me do a one-sheet, it was a design thing — it was so nice that he came down, it was a neighbor — and I asked him hey, where do you work? — I constantly wanna get in people’s business now, it’s crazy! He said he works a couple different part-time jobs, he works for a designer right now — a book designer, where they lay out books that get published — and he works another part-time job. Neither of those companies pay for his insurance. You know, I don’t know what people are supposed to do, I really don’t.
What do you think about that idea? I mean I was talkin’ to a doctor friend of mine, and she has four children, and she said, “you know Kelley, I love ya man, and if you’re on Facebook, I don’t want people to kinda get on your Facebook and just go ‘get a job, dumbass!’ You know, why should I supplement your lifestyle? Why don’t you get a job that requires you to get insurance?” And I didn’t say anything, at that time, but I’ve been thinking a lot about that! Because it’s a sea change of attitude. But [on the other hand] she has four children, she uses public schools — I don’t use public schools! I don’t need ‘em man, I have no kids! So I think I’m just not gonna pay, cool? We cool with that? But here’s the thing, I wanna pay! I want children to be educated, it’s important to me! I don’t know what that [disconnect] is.
PHAWKER: You’re from Ohio, which was unfortunately a Trump-swung state..
KELLEY DEAL: ..ugh..
PHAWKER: You know, this election was so disheartening for so many who fought against Trump’s election. And even Bruce Springsteen remarked on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast last week that he felt a new kind of fear..
KELLEY DEAL: Oh yeah, me too!
PHAWKER: .. but you’re not so disheartened now that you’re gonna stop fighting, you’re obviously going head-first, right into it! What do you feel you can accomplish, and what place do you see for musicians now in terms of activism and helping to incite change?
KELLEY DEAL: You know, just by doing this — you can affect people. Now, I’m not planning on changing anybody’s mind, or anything. But it’s been so awesome, just in the last week and a half, the conversation I’ve had with people. And I think they’ve started conversations with their friends. Do I expect to have any kind of big change, no. But if somebody thinks to themselves, “hmm, I wonder if that barista (obviously not the Starbucks one), I wonder if that barista who I love so much, and who’s going to school full-time and who has a child, I wonder if she has health insurance? I wonder how she and her child manage?” Shouldn’t people think about that? And also, not everybody will always have a job that provides insurance, but everyone will always need it! I will always have a healthcare need, you know? And I don’t know that this employer-based system that we have right now is gonna work. Because then what you’ve got is you’ve got corporations providing the insurance, with employer-based systems telling you who can or who cannot have insurance. That’s just not a good idea. There’s a ton of people in between those that are gonna get lost, and it’s people like artists.
What about the idea of like, wake up this morning, and how bout this: don’t read any novels, any journalism articles, don’t look at any art, don’t listen to any music, don’t watch any television, don’t listen to any podcasts. You better wear a sheet — some sort of weird clothing, something that was not designed. And don’t look at any design. And see how your day goes! Because those people right there are the people that are falling in between the cracks, you know? So THERE MUTHAFUCKA! [laughs]
PHAWKER: I can’t let you go without asking just one about music — can you just tip off a huge Breeders/Kelley Deal fan about anything on the horizon?
KELLEY DEAL: R. Ring has a record coming out in April. And it’s REALLY GOOD! I’m really excited about it! And then, The Breeders, man… it’s gonna be this year, probably closer to Fall. We were in the studio, and I think we’re just doing some mixing right now. I don’t know. I’m excited about both of them! For the R. Ring record, I feel like I have more control over it, like it’s just exactly like I like it. Mike and I are actually going to Philadelphia and playing with the managing editor for She Shreds, Cynthia Schemmer. Her band’s gonna be playing with us in April, so we’re lookin’ forward to that! We have a good time when we go to Philly.
PREVIOUSLY: The Ohio Player — A Q&A With Kelley Deal