Art As Social Inquiry

Health Care in the United States

11.18.09| 35 Comments

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Artist’s Note: In 2008 when I took on the subject of accessing healthcare as my focus of “social inquiry,” I did not see the big picture. Healthcare reform had not yet passed. (The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 and not fully implemented until 2014) I was learning with every portrait story. I began to see how a person’s health insurance status fit into this puzzle the for-profit industry had crafted. The health insurance industry had backed the American public into a corner. Those with preexisting conditions or costly medical trauma were liabilities to insurance companies. Paying claims decreased profits. (Simply, certain lopsided for-profit market forces could be seen at work in the lives of real people who experienced great difficulties accessing healthcare or managing claims.) And how were we to deliver access to healthcare to a nation when the entities we relied on to insure us were incentivized not to insure sick people, pay claims or perform any functions that decreased profits?  And what was the cost of this perverse system in real life?

 I will from time to time comment on those puzzle pieces that represent real lives.  I will include in the “artist’s notes” observations I made from listening to so many people tell me how they access healthcare.  And, occasionally, I will discuss the healthcare law, The Affordable Care Act a.k.a. Obamacare, which I have come to know well since I had to understand it to know how the law would affect the people whose portraits I painted.

A LINK to PHOTO JOURNAL of my time in front of the US SUPREME COURT & CAPITOL in Washington DC. I exercised my First Amendment right of free speech by “standing” with PORTRAITS and SIGNS to confront our representatives with the realities so many in this project face.

This is a series of what will be 100-plus paintings depicting a cross-section of Americans. The titles of the paintings designate the kind of health insurance coverage or lack of coverage the sitters have. The goal is to paint a picture of the American health care system in the faces of our country’s citizens from the very best health coverage to the most horrific of circumstances resulting from a person’s lack of coverage. Who are we when it comes to health care? Let’s not be afraid to look at real people and be touched by their experiences – from the best to the worst – as we navigate this very big issue. There is no agenda but to ask, “What’s your experience? What are your thoughts on the subject?”

Share your stories. Have an opinion? Let’s hear it.

Participate in the disscussion.


  • On 06.13.16 Fred Christian wrote:

    Thank you my friend i appreciate it. This series shows the injustice of being Uninsured. Currently 500,000 Plus in Fl. It should be A National Outrage to do this. I Fight for myself Amy and Gen Rodriguez We Must #ExpandMedicaidNow So All Are Insured and have dignity. The #Impact on being Uninsured is Death Pain and Fear !! That is what We suffer. Due to Petty Politician who put $$ and ideological ideas Over Human Life Thank you my friend #ExpandMedicaidNow Founder Fred Christian

  • On 08.21.13 aasi wrote:

    Your comments are much appreciated! Thank you. You can also follow my work on Facebook at the Art As Social Inquiry fan page.

    A chill went up my spine when you said you are a Type 2 diabetic. I always think of Courtney, whose portrait you commented on. Please take care of yourself!

  • On 08.21.13 Jeff wrote:

    Just read the article in th Midweek Wire 8/21/2013. Your project is very worthwhile and one that I will be following from now on.

    I’m sure there are many stories out there like the young woman who decided to save money on her insulin to save for health insurance. This country should be ASHAMED at what happened to her.

    I worry every day because I too am a diabetic (type 2) who has not had health insurance for about three years. We as Americans need to thank you for your hard work and effort to help change the environment that we all have to live with and share.

    You are a very special person. Thanks for caring.

  • On 03.26.13 Anonymous jay wrote:

    Art as social inquiry is a terrific concept and the topic of healthcare is a biggie. Healthcare accessibility is often on my mind. I do think we’ve evolved funny attitudes about healthcare in general. Many of us spend money on niceties in life from small things to bigger things, as if those things are very important to us. Yet, when it comes to having to spend money on our health by seeing a doctor, we put it off and/or feel resentful about spending the money for it. It’s the way we’ve become conditioned. What if we looked forward to regular doctor’s visits just as much as, or in lieue of going out to eat or having that new tv or iphone, or hottest footwear, or so many cable channels, etc. Most of us would probably say, “what is life without the joy of all those things”? But, what if we saw our health the same way? What is life without the joy of the best health we’re personally able to have? Of course, there are some who really can’t afford either the niceties or the preventative healthcare, so I’m talking more about people in the middle and up. My other thought is that some think health care is a “right”. Doctors, nurses and healthcare workers are not slaves, so healthcare can never be a “right”. You can’t force people to become doctors and nurses just to meet the demand for healthcare. Receiving health care is a privilege. Our GOOD doctors and nurses and home health aides, etc. should be our high-paid “celebrities”. They are not our servants. A compassionate society will work to help fund as much as possible for those who cannot afford healthcare. I’d like to see everyone covered, but with needs-based teiring. Those who can afford healthcare should see it as money well-spent. My heart goes out to those who have slipped through the cracks.

  • On 08.21.12 Medicare Truth Tour 2012 wrote:

    […] core of the program. Information about Theresa’s project, Art as Social Inquiry, can be found here. Tour […]

  • On 07.25.12 aasi wrote:

    Perhaps in the future, when I have time and perhaps some help, I may be able to see my way to running a small office where I can have staff help me do some of the things you suggest.

    I expect to paint at least 100 portraits for the healthcare series. And with all the advocacy work that has taken me by surprise, I am quite busy.

    But your suggestion is good. Perhaps in the future. Thanks for commenting.

  • On 07.24.12 Anonymous wrote:

    I know that you are not interested in money but have you thought of raising money to help those with no insurance by making glicee prints, a book, or calendar of your portraits? The art is really good with soul I think people would make purchases to support a cause like this.

  • On 07.13.12 Art As Social Inquiry » Blog Archive » The Incidental Economist Gets Personal wrote:

    […] tried to get an interview with this woman from Massachusetts for my art project, a series of portrait stories on healthcare. She lost her high-paying job and eventually her […]

  • On 06.14.12 Art As Social Inquiry wrote:

    Anonymous, thank you for speaking up. Never stop. I will spread your story as well. Please email me at

  • On 06.12.12 Anonymous wrote:

    This subject is important to me. My friend died at 50 of breast cancer because she did not have a job that provided insurance and she couldnt afford to get insurance on her own, and made “too much” to qualify for medicaid. This country’s health care system is a joke. COBRA is very expensive and doesnt last long. Its meant as a gap until you can (somehow) get other insurance. Have a pre-existing condition and no one will insure you for less than COBRA if they will even take you at all.

    I pay $626 month for COBRA for one person, no dental, no vision. The rates rise every year too. Once COBRA ends, I will be uninsurable and will probably not survive long because of my medical conditions. Already hospitalized once this year and somehow supposed to pay that off and make my COBRA payments and all my other bills and expenses with no more money than I got 5 yrs ago. For me, this is because of getting divorced in Pennsylvania. Stay at home mothers are penalized financially in a divorce in this state, even after 25 yrs of marriage which they have the nerve to say is not a long term marriage. While my ex makes over six figures, I am just above poverty level. I am not the only one – that is the plight of many divorced women in this country who unwittingly gave up their future financial stability for their family. These women then end up either tax-payer subsidized while their exes make good money, or they end up in the gap without insurance because they cant afford it and cant find a job that pays them enough. I’m luckier than most because my parent that I care for helps me pay for COBRA

  • On 02.22.12 Art As Social Inquiry wrote:

    Anonymous, thanks for your thoughts!!!!!

  • On 02.22.12 Anonymous wrote:

    I love what you are doing here! I have been the victim both ways. As a working adult, I was given unnecessary care and tests due to sheer incompetence in the mental health profession. When I regained my sanity by stopping the 6 prescription medications a day for an illness I don’t even have, I discovered I had cancer on my face and kidney disease. Now I have NO insurance to fight those, but at least I’m sane! 😉 Theresa, one day you are going to paint me. I’ll let you know when … and it will be the silliest painting you have ever done because the only thing crazy is our medical profession and what they are doing to the insured and uninsured alike! I like you, girl … you have guts!!!

  • On 01.06.12 aasi wrote:

    LOL…Thx Robin. Appreciate you looking at the project.

  • On 01.06.12 Robin Wallace wrote:

    this is an amazing project and as a fellow artist, I feel inspired! Maybe I should stop painting vegetables!
    Keep it up!

  • On 12.27.11 Art As Social Inquiry wrote:

    Thanks Milt. Well said.

  • On 12.27.11 Milt Masur wrote:

    I am both a physician and an artist and certainly an advocate of universal health assurance as well as insurance. It is heartening to me to see such an important social issue communicated through art. Art ought to be more than a commercially hyped vehicle for cachet- it ought to communicate about personal and social issues in an honest and meaningful way.
    The cost to society of not providing for basic fairness through support of social support systems is far greater than the monetary cost of providing support. The remedies will eventually evolve, although many people will be harmed before that happens.

  • On 12.25.11 Art As Social Inquiry wrote:

    Ruth,Thank you so much for sharing your story. Heartbreaking and all too common. If you would like to have your son’s portrait included in this series please contact me at This project is all about raising awareness so what happened to your son stops happening.

  • On 12.24.11 Ruth E. Ross wrote:

    I am 76, still working as a psychotherapist. Last year, my son David, who would have been 50 in 8 days, died in his sleep. A placque on a main artery ruptured and he bled to death. He was in the food industry and for 10 or 15 years had a managerial-level job and they did not offer health care in his employment package. So, for those 10/15 years he had no health care. He got laid off and his next job, which he got in a few months, did provide health care. But his doctors were not able to get enough information in time to possibly prevent his sudden death. Cut defense and Pentagon budget, put money into health/mental heath research and Universal Coverage.

  • On 12.01.11 aasi wrote:

    nsv: Thanks so much for your post. Well, I can’t say I am surprised by any of it. I have heard so many stories over the years. But yes, yours is a new angle. Please contact me at I would love to talk to you about your story. Sometimes the complexity in trying to access healthcare in this country is like trying to untangle a ball of knots. And these are the insured! I look forward to hearing from you.
    Kind regards,

  • On 11.30.11 nsv wrote:

    What a marvelous, thought-provoking, heart-breaking project. I am very moved by your work. May I supply a couple of links for your consideration?

    First, a social activist discovers the difficulty in maintaining individual health insurance while moving from state to state. I recently encountered a similar difficulty, and I wasn’t even moving: my previous employer’s health insurance was in another state. Even though the carrier was a national one – THE one – I wasn’t able to convert my group insurance to an individual plan because that other state didn’t owe me anything as a non-resident, and my state didn’t owe me anything because I hadn’t had a group plan in my state. I am now on a high-deductible individual plan, hoping like hell none of my family’s pre-existing conditions will kick in until six months go by. Great strategy, isn’t it?

    Second, and also quite applicable to me: “Insured While Fat.” The author of this post is at least fortunate, if you can call it that, to be employed by a company that offers insurance. Fat people on the individual market often find it impossible to buy health insurance, simply by virtue of being fat. This is nothing new, and Marilyn Wann of FatSO? has written eloquently about it. Regardless of what the medical world and the general public think of fat people and their health risks (and there is considerable data suggesting that those risks, while certainly present, have been vastly overstated and the conclusions are tainted by ties between research and corporations profiting from weight-loss services), I cannot see how refusing to insure fat people accomplishes any health goals at all. This dilemma would make a striking portrait, in my opinion.

    Thanks for doing what you do!

  • On 11.01.11 Enough Is Enough » An Artist’s Call to Action: ART AS SOCIAL INQUIRY wrote:

    […] forward to the present.  I am 45 portraits into my social inquiry of how we access healthcare in the US. My goal is to paint at least 100 […]

  • On 04.27.11 T wrote:

    To the lady I got “into it” with in the parking lot of the post office, my apologies. I can’t help but think of the people I paint and who suffer. But the point of Art As Social Inquiry is to create a safe place for us to challenge our own opinions. You didn’t need me in your face. Theresa

  • On 03.21.11 Pennsylvania Health Access Network Third Annual Health Care Conference—March 27-28, Camp Hill wrote:

    […] of our broken health care system to life. Learn more about her project, Art of Social Inquiry ( and read a special story from WHYY on her work and its impact in Pennsylvania […]

  • On 02.14.11 T wrote:

    Thank you for your comments about a “conversion plan.” I had never heard of it. But you are very smart to not have uninterrupted coverage if you have a pre-existing condition. The other thing is that if you were denied because of a pre-existing condition and you went uninsured for 6 months, you would probably qualify for PA Fair Care (Each state has a pool for those with pre-existing conditions. Check to see how many slots are available in your state.) These pools were established under the Affordable Care Act, and they will exist until 2014 when they will be moot because no one can be denied due to a pre-existing condition. One of my subjects in the project has it. He pays about $283/month. It’s good insurance. It’s less expensive because it’s subsidized by the Affordable Care Act. Thanks for posting. Good luck!

  • On 02.14.11 Anonymous wrote:

    If you are about to graduate from college and will lose the insurance that you received through being a student, ask the insurer about a CONVERSION PLAN. I had never heard of it before my partner asked them. I have IBX Keystone Health Plan East. The bill is enormous, lost the dental insurance, have a deductible on my prescriptions, but they said that as long as I keep paying, I will never lose the coverage. This is essential for me as I was denied due to pre-existing conditions when I tried to apply individually. There is a small window in which to apply for the plan after your college plan ends, so be sure to stay on top of it.

  • On 01.13.11 T wrote:

    Thank you for your thoughts, Midge. I spoke about Jenny to a group in CA this past weekend. I showed a slide of the painting and called her by name. I wanted to make the connection between our opinions/actions and real peoples lives. I will be talking about Jenny for decades to come. And after 20 years I hope I will be saying, “The health care system once operated like….but that was a long time ago.”

  • On 01.13.11 Midge wrote:

    Each time I see Jenny’s painting I am brought back to the horror of the moment when she died at 24, 7 months pregnant. As a parent this image does not frighten me but it makes me horribly sad to remember what she went through and how the family was affected then and will be forever. Thank you so much for your brilliant Social Commentary on the people who have died at the hands of the health care system in this country.

  • On 05.31.10 Theresa wrote:

    Thank you so much for commenting on the portrait of the young woman who died. Yes, I agree,the portrait is scary and morbid. But I wanted to show how our current health care system did not work for her and it cost her her life. All politics aside, horrible things are happening that perhaps we’re not all aware of or they are desensitized to. The painting depicts that for me. I have been in close contact with the mother of the girl in the portrait. She agrees that she wants the circumstances of her daughter’s death known so it never happens again. So she supports the painting.(I am painting a beautiful painting of the young woman in the portrait that came to me in a dream. And that will be for her mother.) Thank you again for commenting. Encourage others to do so.

  • On 05.28.10 LY wrote:

    The picture of the 23 year old that passed away with the hat on is SCARY, I don’t believe her family would want to see her depicted that way, I know I certainly don’t she was a beautiful person with a beautiful soul and this picture does not do her justice it is just down right scary and frankly MORBID… she deserves to be shown in a beautiful way not a deathly way… we want to remember her life not an artistic vision of death being depicted in a picture!!!!!!! I suggest you either take it down and get rid of it, or paint another one that would honor her not scare everyone or make people sad.

  • On 05.23.10 Anonymous wrote:

    WOW! LOVE where you are going with this! These portraits really speak to me. The people really come through and the 23 year old that passed, you really captured this scary feeling and she seems like she is fading away in the portrait. Her true self anyway. The portrait seems to depict the aftermath of the ugliness of an unkind system. SAD.

  • On 01.06.10 aasi wrote:

    Thank you, Sherry!

  • On 01.06.10 sherry wrote:

    Dear Theresa,
    Your portraits are getting better and better. Keep up the Good Work!!!
    Sherry McVickar

  • On 05.04.09 B. Cohen wrote:

    I am lucky that I (and our son) get health benefits through my Partner’s plan. We are lucky that the Health Institution she works for recognizes Domestic Partners. We had to jump through relatively small hoops to get them. They do take up a pretty big chunk of the salary pie, but otherwise, we’d be paying almost 20K a year for them. I work for myself…and used to use Penns. Chamber of Commerce to get group health rates. It was the most basic insurance a single person could get…but it was all I could afford. It was a risk/benefit thing, and luckily, I was young and healthy enough that it got me by…I don’t know what I’d do now…..with a son to support if I was on my own again….move to Europe where healthcare is Nationalized????

  • On 05.01.09 Anonymous wrote:

    I believe everyone should have health care. If you are a drug addict or poor you can get it through the state. If you are rich and have the money you can get it becaue you can afford it. Or others that get it through their jobs with great benefits. What about the middle man that doesn’t get it through their jobs? They aren’t poor enough to get it for free or they end up paying through the nose to have it. Also, I would like to see health care embracing alternative medicine. Why can’t people choose the route they want to go when it comes to there bodies? Healthcare only pays for main stream medicine and I think that’s a crime!

  • On 01.12.09 Maura wrote:

    Interestingly, NY’s governor Paterson wants to address this issue of young uninsured adults who are not yet covered by health insurance in their jobs.

    To all those who say “We can’t afford to pay for any more subsidized health care” realize that if we don’t pay for good health care on the front end (routine office visits and tests) you will pay on the back end in the ER. That’s where sick people go when they are desperate. Then the hospitals don’t get paid for the ER visit. And the government has to reimburse the hospital so they don’t close their doors. We pay the government in increased taxes. We are going to pay one way or another. Better to do it in an organized, planned fashion. Unless of course, we are willing to become a country that allows people to die alone behind their doors or on the street.

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