Local broadcasters, actors complain of health insurance changes amid pandemic

Robin Smith worked 42 years in television news, notably as the longtime noon anchor for KMOV Channel 4.

a person posing for the camera

© Provided by KSDK-TV St. Louis

One benefit of longevity, she said, was the promise that the health plan of SAG-AFTRA, the American union for broadcasters and film and television actors, would cover her health insurance in retirement.

But after paying dues for decades, Smith, now 66, said the union health plan announced this summer it would drop coverage for retirees Jan. 1, disallowing the use of residuals income to qualify for new income thresholds. Instead, Smith said she was, in effect, directed to the Affordable Care Act exchanges. Though SAG-AFTRA offered reduced Continuation of Health Coverage (COBRA) premiums for a period, Smith said that and the ACA plans would be inferior to her current insurance, for which she pays just $30 or $40 a month. The new plan is also giving seniors and their spouses up to $2,280 a year through a health reimbursement account.

“They’ve been taking my money for 42 years, and now they’re saying, ‘I lied to you. Guess what? I was just kidding,'” Smith said.

The change will affect other local broadcasters who are union members. That’s because the plan is also raising the floor for eligibility from those earning $18,040 a year to $25,950. Premiums will also increase.

The downturn in entertainment productions has worsened plan finances, since fewer dues are being paid, according to reports. Increased health costs have also been cited.

“The Trustees of the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan have taken a difficult but necessary action to address financial deficits facing the plan,” it said, adding that it made the changes after projecting deficits of $141 million this year and $83 million in 2021. The plan said without changes it could run out of reserves by 2024.

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