11/29/2011 05:06 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2012

Helping Uninsured Singers Save Their Voices and Their Careers

Today's tough economic times mean that more and more Americans are facing huge barriers to healthcare. As the Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to President Obama's healthcare law, high unemployment has helped to push the number of uninsured Americans to around 50 million people.

Unfortunately, with the poor economy and lack of universal healthcare coverage, many people do not have access to the healthcare they desperately need. One group that all too often finds itself in this situation is that of professional singers.

These are people who use their voice to pay the bills and are at a high risk of developing vocal problems. Unfortunately, if they are uninsured, they often don't have access to healthcare when they need help with a voice that is ailing. As a result, they cannot perform and it becomes even harder to work, which can cause them to fall further into despair. Consider if Adele could not be treated for her vocal disorder -- eventually it would destroy her career. Now consider if Adele was not a star and depended on each performance to pay the bills and feed her family.

As a voice surgeon who's treated many professional singers, I've seen firsthand the difficulties singers face when suffering from vocal problems. A singer's voice is not only important for their job but very often it is also what gives them their joy and identity. Much like the professional athlete who has blown out a knee, singers with voice problems suffer both professionally and personally, and the results can be devastating.

Recognizing the inequities of the current healthcare system and the difficulties that uninsured singers face, we have created a partnership with MusiCares®, the charitable arm of The Recording Academy®. This partnership allows us to care for singers without healthcare insurance and provide them access to world-class medical care for their voices at the Voice and Swallowing Institute at The New York Eye & Ear Infirmary.

Established in 1989 by The Recording Academy, MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. They focus the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community. As such, they are natural partners of the Voice and Swallowing Institute at NYEE, which cares for the voices of professional singers.

Since 2008, we have been teaming up to offer free annual voice screenings to professional singers in celebration of World Voice Day on April 16th. Each year we care for 50 singers without healthcare insurance on that day. Unfortunately, annually, we have to turn away hundreds of applicants. It became clear that the need for access to vocal healthcare was great and unmet. From this blossomed the new collaboration between New York Eye and Ear and MusiCares.

This collaboration will give professional singers ongoing, year-round access to medical and surgical care for voice disorders, including comprehensive examinations, video stroboscopy to diagnose vocal problems and assess injury risk, and individualized follow-up services and treatments appropriate to the diagnosis.

As a doctor, I empathize with any person who does not have the appropriate access to healthcare. As a voice surgeon, I am particularly attuned to professional singers with vocal health issues. This new partnership allows for us to care for both. We feel privileged that we now have the opportunity to help these professionals in need return to their work--and to their life.

Four ways you can make a difference:

  • Call your congressman and let them know how you feel about the 50 million Americans without healthcare insurance.
  • Contact your local ear, nose and throat doctor and ask them how they celebrate World Voice Day.
  • Connect with MusiCares and let them know you want to help in the care of people in the music community who are having difficulties.
  • If you provide a service, search for a charity that may support it so that you can help those who need your aid but cannot afford it.

For more information on voice and swallowing health or the mission of MusiCares, visit or