In what it calls "an unprecedented effort to address the growing problem of uninsured entertainment industry members," the Screen Actors Guild Foundation has joined with the Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) to provide temporary emergency financial assistance to California SAG members who lose health insurance coverage.
Assisted by a SAG Foundation grant, MPTF will provide insurance counseling, referrals, and partial premium subsidies. The fund will determine program participation through an eligibility process that pertains to California SAG members who have less than $15,000 in cash assets, and who have earned at least $7,500 each year, for three out of the last six years. Once the fund establishes eligibility and approves an application, it will disburse aid within three days.
According to MPTF President and CEO David Tillman, M.D., "We have conducted industry surveys that consistently reflect a deep concern about health care, health coverage and 'falling out of eligibility.' We salute the Screen Actors Guild Foundation for taking a leadership role, and working with MPTF to deliver this vital Health Insurance Premium Support Program to California SAG members."
Mitchell Ryan, president of the SAG Foundation, notes that the entertainment field is characterized by fluctuating work and job opportunities. "It is not unusual for our members to find that meeting life's basic necessities can be difficult under such changeable circumstances," Ryan said. "The SAG Foundation constantly seeks ways to help, and this partnership with the Motion Picture & Television Fund provides a wonderful mechanism for us to help ensure the welfare of our SAG family."
Whither SAG/NY, Branches?
Since the SAG family consists, not only of California members, but also thousands of actors aligned with SAG/New York and the guild's branches, Back Stage put the question to Eileen Henry, SAG/NY president and SAG's national second vice-president, of why weren't those members covered under the new plan. Henry investigated and responded, "The Motion Picture & Television Fund is a California-based service for people who work in the film and TV industry out there. It's important to note that if you are a New York or any other branch member, but are residing in California, you would in fact be eligible for any kind of help provided by this organization. The simple fact is that this opportunity to help California members presented itself and fortunately, the foundation was able to jump on it. This does not mean that the buck stops in LA/CA in terms of help to the membership."
Henry went on to list a number of health-insurance sources available to SAG/NY and branch members.
"The Actors' Fund provides all kinds of financial relief for actors in New York City in conjunction with the MPPWF (Motion Picture Players Welfare Fund)," Henry said. They include The Actors' Fund Nursing Home and Assisted Living Care Facility as well as free doctor clinics at the Aurora, as well as many other programs in place to assist performers. The fund also has a health-insurance section on its website at www.actorsfund.org. "This is a national organization as opposed to the MPTF," Henry noted.
"The SAG Foundation has their Catastrophic Health Fund that is available to all actors nationally," Henry added. "We are actively pursuing ways to provide health-care assistance to New York and branch members as well."
Henry stressed that SAG/NY leaders are "working their buns off to try and pass the COBRA legislation which would provide additional financial assistance to those working in the entertainment industry who fall out of coverage. We're also looking at alternative options to SAG insurance which would provide affordable health care to our members. Assuming we are successful at this endeavor, I see no reason why this couldn't serve as the template for coverage in the branches as well as California."
COBRA is the acronym for the federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. Under COBRA, if an employee resigns or is terminated from work, federal law guarantees the worker's right to continue the former employer's group plan as individual or family health-care coverage for up to 18 months at the worker's own expense.
Henry was specifically referring to a bill, S6308, currently in the New York State legislature. The bill will allow many members of the entertainment industry who are unable to afford COBRA, which can cost over $350 for an individual and over $1,000 for a family, to purchase it. Because their insurance will be continuous, they will keep their state and federal protection against pre-existing condition waiting periods, and will be able to remain with the same providers until they become eligible again for their union plans.