The Actors' Fund of America has received $150,000 from the Screen Actors Guild-Producers Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund to establish a West Coast division of the Artists' Health Insurance Resource Center (AHIRC)—similar to the fund's New York operation—at its Los Angeles office.
The fund also has garnered a $50,000 grant from the Screen Actors Guild Motion Picture Players Welfare Fund to assist SAG members who live east of the Mississippi with payments for COBRA, the extension of their union health plans.
Funding for the West Coast office will strengthen The Actors' Fund's continuing efforts to address the issue of quality health insurance and affordable health care for members of the entertainment industry nationwide, according to Joseph Benincasa, executive director of The Actors' Fund.
The West Coast office will conduct workshops for the uninsured and under-insured; provide in-person and telephone counseling for individuals and families; facilitate enrollment in private and government-subsidized health plans, and organize industry advocacy and lobbying for expansion of access to health insurance and health care. Its staff will also research and update Internet resources for the western states on the AHIRC website database, accessible through www.actorsfund.org, which serves the arts and entertainment community nationwide and provides information on a vast array of health insurance and health-care access issues.
"Securing quality health insurance is a critical issue that deeply affects the lives of our colleagues, their families, and artists of all disciplines, for whom lack of insurance can lead to inferior health care and ruinous debt," Benincasa said. "California presents particular difficulties in obtaining health insurance since state law does not mandate that insurers accept all applicants, as is the case in New York. In addition, premiums in California can be extremely high for anyone middle-aged or older or who has any type of health problem. By expanding our AHIRC program with the new West Coast office, we will work to substantially increase the number of insured among entertainment professionals there."
With more than 30% of entertainment industry professionals without health insurance, The Actors' Fund has responded to this crisis with several strategies: emergency financial assistance for premium payments, information and access resources on its AHIRC website, a direct enrollment center in New York, a free health-care clinic in New York, and lobbying for government programs that meet the special needs of industry members. Because the health insurance system in the United States is largely employer-based, most Americans access health insurance through their jobs. For people in arts and entertainment, with incomes that often depend on episodic employment, with work that is project-based, or who are self-employed, finding affordable health insurance is becoming increasingly difficult.