The SAG health plan has taken a first step to improve eligibility for performers, starting in July, as part of ongoing efforts to merge the SAG plan with the AFTRA plan.

In a message Sunday, SAG-AFTRA disclosed that the plan — which covers about 40,000 participants — has announced that performers may be able to combine the earnings reportable to the SAG plan and the AFTRA health plan in order to meet the dollar earnings requirement for Plan II eligibility, currently at $15,100 over four quarters.

The details were also published in the plan’s Take 2 newsletter.

The notion of combining earnings in order to meet eligibility was touted as a major reason for the SAG-AFTRA merger, completed in March 2012. Merger backers said the merger of the unions was as a first step toward merging the SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans but those efforts have yet to gain traction.

Eligibility for both the SAG and AFTRA plans is based on meeting earnings thresholds over a four-quarter period so merging the plans was heralded as a solution to the problem of performers falling short of the thresholds when their contributions were going to two different plans. But the difficulties of combining the plans have given rise to the idea of “reciprocity” of earnings as an alternative.

In recent years, employers have been opting to sign AFTRA contracts for new TV shows, particularly after SAG went through a contentious bargaining period on a master contract during 2008 and 2009. Sunday’s message indicated that the earnings split has become more pronounced.

“Although there have always been participants that have had employer contributions made to both plans, the split in those contributions has been aggravated in recent years by shifts in the industry that have resulted in increasing numbers of participants who have sufficient joint earnings, but are not qualifying for either plan,” the missive said.

“In a first move that will help many members in that position, the SAG Health Plan Trustees announced that beginning July 1, 2014, members with earnings under SAG-AFTRA contracts who do not qualify for health coverage under either the AFTRA or the SAG Health Plan may be able to combine their earnings reportable to each Plan in order to meet the dollar earnings requirement for Plan II eligibility (currently $15,100),” it added.

“This means that beginning with the base earnings period of April 1st 2013 through March 31st 2014, earnings reported to both Plans may under certain circumstances be combined to meet the dollar threshold to qualify for Plan II under the SAG Health Plan.”

But the union did not provide specifics as to how participants will qualify, adding, “More detailed information about the circumstances under which a participant may elect to combine earnings will be provided by the Plans in the near future.”

The message also said that the plans are still exploring the possibility of creating a single plan.

“Please understand that this is only a first step and the SAG P&H and AFTRA H&R Trustees are individually and jointly actively exploring additional options to qualify the greatest possible number of participants for health coverage through SAG-AFTRA work. Both plans are putting special focus on the possibility of creating a single Health Plan to cover all eligible participants working under SAG-AFTRA contracts.”

SAG-AFTRA concluded the message by saying, “The union will do whatever we can to encourage and support the efforts of the Plans.”

Both the SAG and AFTRA health plans operate independently of the union. Each is  overseen by a board that’s comprised of equal numbers of union reps and industry reps.

The newsletter also disclosed that the SAG plan’s assets after subtracting liabilities as of Dec. 31, 2012, were $303.1 million, up $5.7 million over the year. The plan had total income of $208.6 million and expenses of $202.8 million.