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Saving the scribes

WGAW bows health subsidy for lower paid

This article was corrected on July 9, 2003.

HOLLYWOOD — The Writers Guild of America West has launched a program to help lower-paid scribes keep their health insurance if they lose their coverage due to the heightened earnings requirement.

Program, to be administered through the Motion Picture & Television Fund, will be targeted toward WGAW members who fall out of coverage starting in 2004. Premium subsidies for members wishing to continue coverage through a COBRA plan or buying other coverage will be available for up to six months for a monthly maximum of $250 for single party coverage, $500 for two-party and $700 for family coverage.

Announcement comes after the WGAW-producers health plan hiked the eligibility requirement for annual earnings by 51% to $28,833 from $19,125. The new requirement, which went into effect July 1, equals the minimum pay for a one-hour network primetime story and teleplay; the previous figure reps the minimum for a half-hour network primetime story and teleplay.

Eligibility hike hurts

The hike in eligibility means about 200 of the 8,800 WGAW members will not qualify for coverage. For the fiscal year ended December 2001, top earnings for the lowest paid 25% of the guild were $28,091.

Program will be aimed specifically at scribes whose earnings in their most recent four-quarter cycle topped $19,603.

“It can be challenging to meet life’s basic necessities with such uncertainties,” said WGAW prexy Victoria Riskin. “The WGAW constantly seeks ways to help, and this program with the Motion Picture & Television Fund provides a wonderful mechanism for us to help ensure the welfare of our members.”

Soaring health care costs have forced all Hollywood unions to scramble in response. SAG and AFTRA have imposed their first health plan premiums this year; the DGA has reduced benefits and tightened eligibility; and IATSE negotiated higher producer contributions in its West Coast contract along with health plan changes designed to save $54 million over three years.

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