With No Health Benefits, DJing Is a Risky Business

Health care is a revolving issue for DJs and other nightlife contractors


DJ RiskOne in better days.

A hired-gun DJ schlepping a small fortune in equipment from wedding to bar mitzvah knows his or her work tools are at risk. Even with locked doors and a car alarm, an insurance policy protecting all that stuff is key. A marquee DJ spinning in a crowded club knows lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage are a possibility. Accidents happen, which is why nightclubs cover injuries to patrons that are caused by DJs or their equipment.

But what about coverage for the DJ?

When functioning properly, the human body is a miracle. When things go wrong—especially for those without adequate health coverage—caring for the body can become an emotional and financial nightmare. DJs are usually classified by their employers as independent contractors, meaning they’re not eligible for the benefits that a full-time worker would receive. So when confronted with a major health crisis, it’s strictly out of pocket, no safety net in sight.

One of the wise few, long time resident DJ Risk One (a.k.a. Marques Lewis) was covered when the worst-case scenario went down. After weeks of unexplained stomach and back pain, a trip to the emergency room found him on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis. Bladder cancer—adenocarcinoma, to be precise. Says Cathy Lewis, Marques’ mother on a GoFundMe page raising money to pay for his medical care: “This type of cancer typically occurs in 60- to 70-year-old men, with a list of other con-tributing factors that don’t apply. Marques’ situation is the rarest of the rare.”

Following three surgeries, a resulting hospital stay and a planned course of chemotherapy, Marques will travel to Stanford University for extensive reconstructive surgery, tentatively slated for July. And while the bulk of his medical bills are covered, that doesn’t mean his day-to-day living expenses have stopped. It’s been a long four months of no work, and Marques doesn’t expect to be back in the game until late in the year—at the earliest. As expected, the Las Vegas nightlife community has rallied; there are fundraising events under way via a dedicated Facebook page, and his family is raising donations using GoFundMe. Marques’ prospects for recovery look good, but the overall financial impact of his condition can only be described as daunting.


“Health insurance is an absolute necessity, especially being self-employed. I’ve had personal health insurance for more than 10 years, since graduating college. It was never as expensive as everyone seemed to think, and it’s just been solid peace of mind that if shit happens, I’d be covered,” Marques says. “I have always been very healthy and active, so at times it definitely seemed like a waste of money to pay thousands per year and only ever go to the doctor for quick check-ups. Nonetheless, as I recently learned, having insurance is worth every penny.”

Fellow DJ Mikey Swift, on the other hand, has been down a similar road, but even so remains staunchly anti-insurance. “[I] was misdiagnosed for years with a bad gallbladder. Finally, after eight years, they got it right and I got it removed. [With] no insurance, all the hospital visits and the surgery ate a huge chunk of my savings. I am definitely anti-doctor, and feel a catastrophic plan may be all that’s necessary, but I still don’t have insurance.”

Locally, Downtown Project’s Turntable Health (aptly named, for this story) is a membership-based model offering up a fresh option to help the uninsured save money while staying healthy. “For $80 per month, our patients receive unlimited, no-copay, all-you-can-treat access to everything our team of board-certified family medicine doctors, health coaches, social workers and nurses can provide,” founder Dr. Zubin Damania says. “This often can help the uninsured avoid expensive ER and urgent care visits; in addition, we pass along wholesale lab discounts and help coordinate care to keep patients healthy, both physically and financially. Being able to email your doctor or call in the middle of the night can often avoid an expensive trip to the emergency room. We have a good number of patients who have no other insurance, and we do our best to take great care of them.”

Of course, with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), many Americans can qualify for basic coverage for less than $100 per month. For DJs, that’s less than the cost of a phono cartridge (and way less than the latest version of Ableton Live).

Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to say “shoulda” when confronted with a life-changing, wallet-emptying disaster. But rather than being reactive, the ones so often found behind the turntables at medical fundraisers might want to consider what they’ll do if, and when, the tables are turned.

To donate to Marques Lewis’ medical fund, visit GoFundMe.com/RiskOne or Facebook.com/Groups/HelpRiskOne.

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