A new plan from the The Equity League Health Fund will require members to work more weeks per year to qualify for coverage.
The Equity League Health Fund has announced a new health plan for Equity members which would require union members to work a higher number of weeks per year in order to qualify for health coverage.
Equity members’ health insurance is tied to how many weeks out of the year they work on contract. Currently, members who work 11 weeks qualify for six months of coverage. Under the new plan members will be required to work 16 weeks in order to qualify for the same coverage.
Individuals who work at least 12 weeks will qualify for low-tier plans with higher co-payments and additional restrictions.
The health fund is a separate organization from the union, jointly managed by union trustees and employer trustees.
The fund cites lack of resources as the reason for the change, as it has seen a sharp decline in contributions from nonprofit and commercial theatrical organizations since Covid-19 shuttered cultural spaces in March.
The fund currently holds $91 million in financial reserves, down significantly from $120 million at the start of the pandemic. According to the fund, that number threatens to drop below $20 million by mid-2021 and with the fund depleted entirely by the end of next year if requirements go unchanged.
In response Actors’ Equity Association has released the following statement:
“Recently, Council became aware that the health fund was preparing to announce plan changes. The more we learned, the more concerned we became that not enough work had been done by the health fund to determine how these changes would impact our members. That is why Council passed a resolution directing the union’s trustees to withdraw support from plan changes and delay the announcement that was made today until a demographic study was done,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association. “I am deeply frustrated that today’s announcement was made against the wishes of the Council and that no study has been returned to Council about how these changes might impact our members who face hiring bias. We all understand that there is no escaping the devastating loss of months of employer contributions nationwide, and no alternative aside from making adjustments to the plan. But I believe that the fund had both the obligation and the financial reserves to take the time to make better choices.”
In anticipation of a new plan, Equity’s Council instructed its trustees to withdraw support for the proposed health plan until further examination, particularly into its effects on potential harm and remedies for BIPOC participants, potential harm and remedies for pregnant participants, and impact on participants living outside New York, Chicago and Los Angeles
Equity-League did not return a study to Council before the plan changes were announced, prompting the union to withhold support for the plan.
The fund has released the following statement, “The Equity-League Health Fund relies on employer contributions to fund health coverage for our participants, which consists of stage managers and actors of widely varying incomes. Those employer contributions are generated, in turn, by the work performed by our participants. The sudden and unprecedented cessation of theatre work has therefore drastically affected the Health Fund’s financial position. The benefit changes developed by the Trustees and their professional advisors are essential for ensuring that the Health Fund can survive this crisis. The new plan design provides a meaningful healthcare benefit that is accessible to as many participants as feasible.”
“We understand that, without the ability to work, many participants may not qualify for coverage under any realistic benefit plan we could devise and financially sustain. Sadly, there is nothing the Health Fund can do to affect the course of the pandemic or to accelerate the safe reopening of live theatre. However, there is something that our federal leaders can do to help our participants maintain their vital healthcare coverage. We strongly urge Congress and the White House to act swiftly and urgently to pass a 100% COBRA subsidy for workers who have been laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic.”
In April, Equity called for a COBRA subsidy as unemployment began to skyrocket in the arts and entertainment sector.
In May the House passed the HEROES Act, which includes a 100% COBRA subsidy for displaced workers. The language is modeled after similar efforts during the 2008 financial crisis, when the federal government offered COBRA subsidies to workers who were laid off through no fault of their own.
Also in May, Equity called for the U.S. Senate to pass a COBRA subsidy without delay. Since then, over 4,900 Equity members and supporters have signed a petition calling for the subsidy. Thousands more have signed a petition supporting the HEROES Act.