SAG-AFTRA leaders have been grappling for months with the outcry from members over massive modifications and cuts to the union’s well being care plan beginning subsequent 12 months.
However as 2020 attracts to a detailed, Michael Estrada, CEO of the SAG-AFTRA Well being Plan, has a easy message for the union’s 160,000-plus members: Those that are eligible ought to join on-line or by phone for a plan by Dec. 31, or threat dealing with a lapse in protection early subsequent 12 months. About 33,000 members at current are lined by the plan.
“There’s been some misinformation on the market and that has led to confusion,” Estrada informed Selection. “Particularly amongst our retirees, this has created some panic.”
Estrada concedes that modifications for 2021 that had been unveiled in August had been disturbing to members. With the well being plan on tempo to rack up a $141 million deficit this 12 months, SAG-AFTRA Well being Plan trustees had little alternative however to considerably tighten up advantages eligibility and lift premiums. One other transfer that rattled many members was the shift in eligibility necessities for seniors and retired performers, who’re pressured to rely extra on Medicare and supplemental insurance policies supplied via SAG-AFTRA’s By way of Advantages trade.
The modifications spurred a class-action lawsuit spearheaded partly by actor Ed Asner, a former SAG president. The go well with, filed Dec. 1 in Los Angeles federal court docket, asserts that the modifications quantity to age discrimination in opposition to older and retired actors.
Estrada emphasizes that even those that have considerations concerning the modifications ought to join by the year-end deadline to keep away from a lapse in protection. The ultimate deadline for acquiring protection via the union for 2021 is Jan. 15 for energetic performers and Feb. 26 for retirees and senior performers. However Estrada notes that ready till these later deadlines might imply that members face a interval with none protection.
“No one can be making these modifications in a pandemic if we didn’t have to,” Estrada stated. “We take our duty critically and one factor we now have to do proper now after we know there’s confusion is to get the best info on the market.”
Estrada stated the union has hosted quite a few webinars and well being plan officers have had many one-on-one periods with members to clarify the modifications. For retirees, he notes that almost all had been already reliant on Medicare as their main supply of well being care.
“As soon as we walked individuals via the monetary challenges dealing with the plan and we walked them via the precise modifications, most individuals perceive,” he stated. The lesson from the uproar in August was the significance of “over-communicating with members.”
Choices to increase the earnings threshold and eligibility for some spouses of SAG-AFTRA members weren’t taken calmly by the 40 trustees that oversee the plan. The majority of the plan’s funding comes from employer contributions. Producers of SAG-AFTRA-covered productions are required to pay into the plan based mostly on a proportion of every performers’ earnings on a given venture. That proportion isn’t deducted from the performers’ paycheck however paid out individually by the manufacturing entity. The share owed by the studio can also be topic to an earnings cap per venture (or episode) of $232,000 for function movies, $15,000 per half-hour episode of TV and $24,500 per hourlong episode. At current, the share that producers pay in to the fund stands at about 7.5% of performer earnings up to the cap.
The standard of the SAG-AFTRA Well being Plan has lengthy been a degree of pleasure for union members because it was created out of sacrifice. In 1960, union members agreed to quit all TV residuals for films produced earlier than that 12 months so as for the studios to fund a well being plan that has now lined a number of generations of actors and performers.
The drop in TV manufacturing spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic had a ripple impact that hit the SAG-AFTRA well being plan exhausting. It was already dealing with a deficit – on the finish of 2019 the plan was $40 million within the purple — however the outbreak and the slowdown in manufacturing was a merciless one-two punch, Estrada stated. Furthermore, there may be an expectation that many members have delayed non-essential medical procedures that may probably be scheduled in 2021.
“The COVID shutdown had essentially the most speedy and profound influence on the plan,” Estrada stated. Well being plan earnings from TV manufacturing are down about 35% over the previous 12 months in contrast to the identical interval in 2019. Theatrical earnings are down about 25%, Estrada stated.
The well being plan is run by 40 trustees, half of that are appointed by the union and half by producers. If that they had made no monetary modifications for 2021, the plan would have been out of its reserves by 2024.
“We did this out of necessity,” Estrada stated.
SAG-AFTRA members can get extra details about well being plan choices on the union’s web site, SagAftraPlans.org/Well being, or by calling (800) 777-4013 or by sending an e mail to [email protected]