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SAG and AFTRA Health Plans to Merge by January

SAG and AFTRA’s health plans are on track to be combined by January, according to the top trustee of the AFTRA plan.

If the merger goes through, it would come five years after members of SAG and AFTRA voted to merge into a single performers union with about 160,000 members. Merger supporters asserted repeatedly in the run-up to the vote that the merging would enable the two health plans to become one, making coverage more available to members.

Disney/ABC labor relations executive Marc Sandman made the disclosure on March 11 at a UCLA law school symposium, according to several people familiar with the situation. Sandman is the co-chair of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds board of trustees.

“There is under way a merger of the health plans,” Sandman said. “There is an expectation that it will be complete as of January next year.”

Sandman refused a request by Variety to amplify the statement, as did reps for the two plans and SAG-AFTRA.

It was the first public disclosure about a possible merger of the plans since June, when David White, national exec director of SAG-AFTRA, said in an email sent to national board members that “significant progress” had been made toward that goal. That pronouncement was issued during a heated election presidential campaign between incumbent Ken Howard and challenger Patricia Richardson.

The plans are currently overseen by representatives of the union and the industry. 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.

Currently, there is some combined earnings eligibility for qualification for the SAG plan. Currently, a member has to earn $30,750 in four quarters to qualify for SAG Plan I. SAG Plan II requires $15,100 in covered earnings, or various alternate methods. The AFTRA structure requires $10,000 in covered earnings for individual coverage and $30,000 for a family plan.

Merger backers assert that a SAG-AFTRA combo would increase bargaining strength and represent a first step toward solving the problem of performers not qualifying for coverage under separate SAG and AFTRA health and pension plans.

Opponents complained in 2012 that SAG never performed an actuarial study on the impact of merging the separate pension and health plans. SAG plan trustee Robert Carlson contended at the time that merging the SAG and AFTRA plans would create a “staggering” burden because the new plan would then be required to pay out more benefits without accruing additional income.

SAG’s Hollywood board removed Carlson from the trustee post a few days before the merger vote.

The news about Sandman was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

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