Christina Ionno_2At the beginning of my modeling career in Canada, I didn’t have a clear understanding of how to obtain health insurance abroad. Unlike many other professionals, models do not receive health insurance benefits through an employer. We are on our own to figure it out. When we sign a contract with an agency, they might provide some information explaining where the nearest gym is located that offers models a discount, or where we can get our hair, nails and spray tans done. But I was never told what number to call in an emergency or the location of the nearest hospital.

When I was modeling in Canada, none of this was an issue because Canada has incredible, free health care for its citizens. But when I started to work abroad, I was not sure what to do. I found a decent emergency travel insurance plan that I purchased annually and that remained valid as long as I returned to Canada every 120 days. However, that plan was not ideal when I was between a four-month stint in Asia, or a yearlong stay in Paris. And while it was nice to have an excuse to visit family and friends back home, even health concerns that don't technically qualify as emergencies can still require immediate attention.

New York City has now been my home for many years and there have been many times where I could have used health care coverage, but didn't have any. When I first moved to the city, I fell ill and had no idea what to do or where to go. I tried the emergency queue at Beth Israel hospital, where I waited for six hours. Eventually I saw a doctor who performed various tests, some of which I doubt were necessary, only to discover that I just had a bad cold. And then I got slapped with a nearly $800 bill! After that experience I decided to avoid doctors at all costs and wait it out until my next visit back to Canada. My mindset became "just don't get sick".

I made up many excuses over the years to not visit doctors in America. When my voice would get raspier due to a bad cold, I'd convince myself that I sounded sexy, when, in reality, what I needed was an asthma inhaler. Christina Ionno_1

I neglected my mental health too. I suffered through bouts of insomnia, anxiety, and depression for months on end, telling myself that I should just suck it up. I would show up to shoots and castings attempting a poker face, only to face intense scrutiny in front of the lens. Fortunately, I had a close circle of friends in New York who were concerned about my wellbeing and recommended that I see a psychiatrist. There is no shame in seeking professional help with mental health and I'm glad that I finally sought it out. But, without health insurance, that help came at significant financial cost. In this case, a 45-minute session cost $225. The payments became an added stress and so my doctor recommended a free clinic, but the quality of care left a lot to be desired.

Recently, I became a member of the Model Alliance and I discovered their health care partnership with Center for Frontline Retail. I decided to make a free appointment to check my eligibility for getting health care coverage. To my surprise, there were a variety of options for low cost and even free health care coverage. I was quickly put on a plan that suited my needs, and I was set up with a primary care physician, as well as given phone numbers and information about whom to contact with any health concerns I might have. These plans are a savior, especially for those of us who are experience dry spells at work from time to time. In short, I’m glad that I made the call!

It's a relief to know that if anything happens to my physical or mental health, I can now rely on decent health insurance to take care of basic needs. I encourage fellow models to do the same, and I am grateful that a partnership like this now exists. Beauty really is from the inside out.



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