Driven by an increasing deficit, the Screen Actors Guild health plan is raising premiums for members over 65 and their dependents — at a time when the issue of health care costs has become a political touchstone.The trustees of the plans, overseen by reps of SAG and the major producers, announced the changes recently in the plans’ “Take 2″ newsletter mailed to participants and posted online. The changes to the Senior Performers plan take effect Jan. 1. “Currently, the health plan has a deficit expected for the remainder of 2012, which is projected to increase for 2013,” the newsletter said. “In an ongoing effort to reduce this deficit, the trustees have made the difficult but necessary decision to raise the premiums for the Senior Performers Health Plan coverage. The trustees realize the impact this will have on senior performers but believe the premium increase is necessary, at this time, in order to preserve the Senior Performers Health Plan coverage moving forward.” The senior health plan — which primarily provides coverage for eligible pensioners who are age 65 or older and their eligible dependents — is doubling the monthly premium to $50 for senior performers with no spouse or with a spouse or domestic partner who is age 65 or older. The plan will charge $100 a month for senior performers with spouses or domestic partners under age 65. “Currently, the health plan is paying as the primary plan for spouses and same-sex domestic partners under the age of 65 because they are not yet eligible for Medicare,” the newsletter said. “Costs are much higher for these spouses and partners than for Medicare-eleigible spouses and partners, yet their health plan premium has been the same as that for couples who are both covered under Medicare.” The premium hikes are the latest sign of pressure on the SAG health and pension plans, which announced a year ago that they were tightening eligibility requirements and benefits, along with warning that participants that further cuts could be coming. Neither announcement detailed the reasons for the moves. In 2010 the SAG plan disclosed that there had been a 10% decline in employer contributions generated from employment-based earnings and a 9% hike in health care costs. Last month trustees of the SAG and AFTRA health and retirement plans took the first official step to explore the possibility of merging the separate plans, meeting for more than four hours on Aug. 11 to discuss how such a move could be handled logistically. In March, SAG and AFTRA members approved a merger of the two performers unions after proponents of the merger touted the combined SAG-AFTRA as having more power than the individual unions and asserted that combining the unions would be a first step toward combining the plans — and a move toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans. SAG and AFTRA, in joint negotiations with the congloms, agreed in late 2010 to a new master contract in which the major gain was a hike in pension and health contributions from 15% to 16.5%.