Two members of the International Cinematographers Guild have filed a class action suit alleging they were wrongfully dropped from their health insurance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Greg Endries and Dee Nichols brought the federal suit against the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans, which provide no-cost health coverage to below-the-line workers who qualify.
In order to maintain coverage, participants must work 400 hours over a six-month period. Endries and Nichols contend that they — and many others — would have met that threshold had production not shut down entirely in mid-March.
The board of the health plan extended a 300-hour credit to workers whose eligibility deadline fell in April and May, and is providing no-cost COBRA after that. But Endries and Nichols’ eligibility deadline fell on March 21.
The suit contends that the board “left participants like Mr. Endries and Mr. Nichols out in the cold.”
According to the suit, Endries, a still photographer, has had to go without insurance because he cannot afford COBRA, and Nichols, a camera operator, has had to pay for private insurance with worse coverage.
“The loss of both income and affordable health insurance coverage during this worldwide health crisis is devastating to the Plan participants and their family members who were arbitrarily excluded by Defendants despite the fact that they, like the other participants who were extended the 300 hours, premium waiver for dependents, and/or COBRA subsidies, lost their needed work hours due to the crisis,” the lawsuit states.
The class action was filed on behalf of all plan participants who did not receive the 300-hour credit or the COBRA subsidies. In addition to the cinematographers guild — otherwise known as IATSE Local 600 — the MPIPHP covers editors, costumers, makeup artists and hair stylists, and many other below-the-line crafts.
After workers initially complained about the lack of support for those whose eligibility deadline was March 21, the health plan did offer a 25-hour credit so that those with 375 hours or more could reach 400 hours. Those with 300 hours or more were also given the chance to prove that they had enough work lined up to reach the 400-hour threshold when the COVID-19 shutdown hit.
The lawsuit contends that the board’s decision violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act by favoring one group of plan participants over another.
Lori Brogin, the MPIPHP communications director, declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.