The trustees of the Screen Actors Guild – Producers Health Plan and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Health Fund have approved the merger of the two plans.

The merger, announced Wednesday by SAG-AFTRA, comes four years after members of SAG and AFTRA voted to unite their separate unions, creating SAG-AFTRA. The new plan will go into effect at the start of 2017.

The fusion will allow SAG-AFTRA members to combine covered earnings from all SAG-AFTRA contracts toward eligibility for coverage in a single health plan. They said the plan will be similar to the SAG Plan with two tiers (Plan I and Plan II), both of which will provide family coverage at all qualifying levels.

“The successful merger of these plans would not have been possible if we hadn’t united SAG and AFTRA first. Our members deserve one outstanding health plan and this historic agreement ensures that all earnings under our contracts now credit to a single health plan,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris.

“One of the biggest challenges many members faced was the inability to combine earnings from both SAG and AFTRA contracts to achieve eligibility,” she said. “With one health plan we have eliminated that issue, making split earnings for performers a thing of the past. At the same time, we have positioned our health plan to be financially sustainable for all members for years to come.”

SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White said, “The new health plan is both comprehensive and forward-looking. Merging these plans was a complex undertaking and I am proud that the trustees worked together to arrive at solutions that strengthen the overall financial health of the plan while ensuring comprehensive benefits for all participants.”

The new health plan will cover more than 65,000 participants and their dependents.

Merger supporters asserted repeatedly in the run-up to the 2012 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 announced on March 11 that the plans would be merged by the start of 2017. White said in an email a year ago “significant progress” had been made toward that goal.

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.

There has been some combined earnings eligibility for qualification for the SAG plan in recent years. 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 asserted in 2012 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.

Details of the merged plan disclosed Wednesday, include: Earnings requirement for Plan I coverage at $33,000;
Earnings requirement for Plan II coverage at $17,000; Alternative qualifying methods, including Age and Service and Days Worked; Expedited station staff eligibility (subject to the new earnings thresholds); Continuation of existing rules for covered roster artists and newly signed royalty artists (under Plan II of the new plan)

Additionally, both Plan I and Plan II will offer family coverage; Mental health and substance abuse coverage will now be offered in both Plan I and II; Medical and hospital provider network will be Anthem Blue Cross; Comprehensive dental coverage offered through Delta Dental; Prescription drug benefits administered by Express Scripts; and vision benefits in Plan I through Vision Service Plan.

SAG-AFTRA said premiums will mirror those of the current SAG Health Plan.

Carteris said in a message to members that her predecessor, the late Ken Howard, deserved credit for making the merger possible.

“During the movement to merge SAG and AFTRA, Ken Howard and I, along with members from around the country, made a promise that we would work tirelessly toward a merged health plan,” she said. “Today that pledge is fulfilled and a critical goal has been achieved.”

The plans have launched a new website at www.sagaftrahealth.org for participants.

The move to merge the health plans does not appear to impact the separate SAG and AFTRA pension plans.