The experts say there's things
He should've done better
But instead he's just dying young
– Vic Chesnutt, "Dying Young"
The Christmas Day death of singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt, who had been partially paralyzed since a drunk-driving car crash when he was 18, could be spun as a story about chemical abuse, depression or suicide. But at bottom (see his "When the Bottom Fell Out" below), it's a story about health care in America.
If you have a pre-existing condition that requires ongoing treatment, and are a self-employed musician in employer-based system, you're not likely to be enjoying the "greatest health care system in the world."
He spoke at length December 1st on "Fresh Air" about his struggles with the health care system, and in another interview, he said:
I'm not too eloquent talking about these things. I was making payments, but I can't anymore and I really have no idea what I'm going to do. It seems absurd they can charge this much. When I think about all this, it gets me so furious. I could die tomorrow because of other operations I need that I can't afford. I could die any day now, but I don't want to pay them another nickel.
Back in 1996, a Chesnutt Tribute album called "Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation," helped raise money for his medical bills — and was intended to perhaps goose him out of obscurity so he could make a better living. At the time, he was quoted in a Strib story by Jon Bream about medical insurance for musicians.
Even thirteen years later, a difficult and obscure artists can't go back to the well for another tribute album. So the greatest outpouring comes too late.
"A lot of musicians are living supper to supper" and can't pay for insurance. "It's really scary," said Chesnutt, pop's most prominent paraplegic singer-songwriter. "I was lucky enough: I had a job when I crashed. I was working at Hardee's and at a cotton mill, too. So I'd paid in Social Security for a couple of years and I automatically got Medicaid, which is a great thing. If not, my family would've been starved to death. It would've sucked them dry."