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Actors’ Equity fund ill

Trustees tighten eligibility, cut benefits

Actors’ Equity has joined the list of showbiz unions facing headaches from its health insurance fund.

The trustees of the New York-based Equity-League Health Trust Fund — administered jointly by reps of producers and the union — have announced tightened eligibility and benefit cuts as of Oct. 1.

They also have issued a sobering warning that the health fund’s future is being threatened due to soaring costs, noting assets have declined by $28 million to $50 million over the past two years, with another $16.5 million decline likely in reserves in the current fiscal year unless benefits are cut.

“As we have previously stated, the cost of providing health benefits continues to rise at an alarming rate,” the trustees said. “Despite the measures we have taken to resolve this problem, we are still faced with increased costs that now seriously threaten the fund’s very existence.”

The trustees also hinted further cuts may come, even though the upcoming changes will come on the heels of a round of tightening to the plan that went into effect July 1. Those changes boosted the required amount of employment from 10 weeks to 12 weeks over a 12-month period and raised the major deductible in the out-of-network plan from $250 to $350 per person.

The changes going into effect on Oct. 1 include the following:

  • Tightening the eligibility rules so that participants will have to work at least 20 weeks per 12-month period to receive 12 months’ coverage, while participants who work more than 12 weeks but less than 20 per 12-month period will receive six months of coverage.

  • Elimination of the dental plan. The trustees are working on a voluntary, self-pay dental benefit.

  • Consolidation of the indemnity medical plans into one administered by Cigna, replacing Blue Cross and Union Labor Life.

  • Increasing the PPO in-network office visit co-pay from $15 to $25.

  • Replacing Merck-Medco with Cigna as the administrator of the prescription drug benefit; the annual deductible will rise to $100 in January.

“As difficult as it was to reduce benefits, especially in today’s economy, the fact is that the trustees are legally responsible for the fiscal health of the fund,” the announcement said. “With the fund’s very existence threatened, we had no other choice but to take these steps in an attempt to preserve it for the current and future participants. Indeed, even these changes may not eliminate the entire deficit.”

The trustees also said they took into account how other funds in the entertainment industry have dealt with similar circumstances. And Actors’ Equity prexy Patrick Quinn said in a separate message to Equity’s 40,000 members that SAG, AFTRA, IATSE and the WGA, among others, have been forced to make “staggering” modifications in their health plans.

Quinn noted the fund’s Blue Cross premium has risen by 46% in the past year, while its rates for doctors and medical procedures rose 21% and its prescription drug costs were up 16%.

Major inflation

“Medical inflation is sometimes 10 times the average of regular consumer inflation,” Quinn asserted. “Trust me, we as actors have not been singled out in this crisis. Health plan changes are hammering almost every wage earner in this country, and the number of uninsured Americans is soaring.”

Quinn predicted that if the changes were not implemented, the fund probably would go bankrupt in two years. And he strongly urged members to become involved in political efforts to improve access to affordable health care.

“There are no fat cat union bosses trying to screw the little guy, for every one of us that you have elected is, in the end, just a little guy, too,” Quinn said. “I pray that we will make it through this crisis and someday look back and shake our heads in disbelief that we in this great nation ever had to suffer thought it in the first place.”

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