Site upgrade should help artists gather info

Nearly a third of all performing artists do not have health insurance, more than twice the rate for the general population, according to estimates from the charitable group Actors Fund of America.

“Even when they are employed, a lot of performers are not eligible to obtain health insurance from their employers since they are employed on an episodic basis,” noted James Brown, manager of the fund’s newly expanded Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center.

The Gotham-based center has scheduled a Times Square presentation Thursday hosted by Richard Schwartz, chair of the New York State Council on the Arts, to highlight its beefed-up Web site at www.actorsfund.org and enhancement to help performers seek out insurance info.

The org also said it expects the numbers of uninsured performers to increase dramatically. Brown noted that it’s particularly tough for performers to obtain even self-pay coverage if they have pre-existing conditions.

“The availability of insurance is limited in many states and if it is available, it’s often unaffordable,” he added.

The health center said its section of the 4-year-old site has been receiving more than 650 visitors daily. The center says the upgrade provides faster access to info on local health care for the uninsured and underinsured, links to government-subsidized programs, guides to using health insurance and disease-specific assistance, and sources of emergency financial aid for medical and hospital bills.

The issue of health insurance has nagged at the Screen Actors Guild in recent years. Skyrocketing costs have forced the SAG-industry health care plan — jointly administered by SAG and the Hollywood studios — to tighten eligibility requirements and increase premiums twice since mid-2001.

SAG’s national board has instituted the National Healthcare Safetynet Committee to explore options on behalf of members without health insurance. But the Guild issued a cautious outlook, saying, “The most we can do, right now, to assist members who are seeking information about health insurance and health care, is to direct you towards tips and resources.”

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