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SAG Health Plan Changes Prompt Protest From Patricia Richardson, Frances Fisher

Two high-profile members of the SAG-AFTRA national board have gone public with their dissatisfaction over an upcoming change in the SAG health plan.

Frances Fisher and Patricia Richardson are objecting to the Trustees’ recent decision over the plan — which is overseen by reps of the performers union and management — to eliminate the self-pay option for health insurance premiums for members who have taken early retirement. That decision will go into effect at the end of the year.

The plan, which covers about 40,000 members and dependents, disclosed the decision in its Take 2 fall newsletter, saying that the self-pay option was no longer necessary because of the availability of “high-quality, affordable coverage” through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace.

“Protection is in place for those with pre-existing conditions and this extended coverage safety net is no longer necessary,” the newsletter said.

Currently, self-pay coverage ranges from $492 to $584 monthly for an individual and $1,348 to $1,596 monthly for an individual plus two dependents.

Fisher, who received the fifth-highest vote total in August among Los Angeles candidates for the national board, has launched a campaign asking members to protest the changes by contacting executive director Michael Estrada and the Board of Trustees with the following message:

“Please grandfather in those members who were already on early retirement and self- paying for insurance. These members made decisions about when to start taking their benefits based on certain assurances. To suddenly reverse those assurances and leave these members without the ability to get health care is unconscionable.”

Richardson, who received 46% of the vote for the presidency against incumbent Ken Howard, said, “We need people who are being affected by these changes to write how these changes are affecting you personally ASAP to the Board of Trustees.” 

A spokeswoman for the plan had no comment when contacted by Variety.

Fisher, who is a longtime member of the Membership First faction, said that she and her allies have been getting calls from people who have suddenly lost their coverage.

“These SAG performers opted for early retirement and accepted less money from their well-earned pension plan partly because they were assured they would be able to self-pay for health insurance between the ages of 55-65,” she said. “In what world did the Trustees responsible for this sudden decision regarding the SAG P&H plan think the ACA (Affordable Care Act) was going to cover the people they are abruptly taking this insurance away from? And with, what amounts to, no warning?”

Fisher asserted that the high cost of living in California or New York and limits on subsidies are impairing the ability of members to find new insurance.

The issue of health coverage has been a hot-button issue for many years at the union. The SAG and AFTRA health plans remain separate more than three and a half years after members of SAG and AFTRA overwhelmingly voted to merge the unions.

Merger supporters asserted in the run-up to the 2012 vote that the merging would enable the two health plans to become one, making coverage more available and affordable to members. SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White said in a June email to national board members that “significant progress” had been made toward that goal.

Currently, members’ earnings are designated for either the SAG plan or the AFTRA plan — depending on which union had jurisdiction over the TV program prior to the merger — in order to determine whether the members meet the minimum earnings thresholds necessary to qualify for coverage.

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