SAG-AFTRA’s national leadership has waded into the bitter dispute over the looming deep cuts in the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan as the union’s national board vowed to combat “misinformation” and condemned opponents of the cuts.

Gabrielle Carteris, president of the performers union, accused the opponents of conduct similar to those running “scams” that target the elderly. Opponents of the looming SAG-AFTRA Health Plan cuts already alleged on Dec. 6 that the union was “deliberately misrepresenting the Health Plan Crisis.”

The conflicting messages have come in the wake of a federal class-action suit, with 91-year-old Ed Asner as lead plaintiff. The action, filed Dec. 1, sued the health plan and its trustees, estimating that the plan changes — announced in August to go into effect in January — will eliminate coverage for 11,750 of 32,000 participants, including 8,200 seniors. The suit alleges two counts of breach of fiduciary duty, one count of engaging in a prohibited transaction and one count of failing to disclose information material to plan participants. The SAG-AFTRA Plan has said the suit is without merit.

SAG-AFTRA is not a party to the lawsuit but several of its leaders, including National Executive Director David White, are defendants as health plan trustees. Carteris, who is not a trustee, warned Monday “about the flood of misleading information being spread by certain websites and social media accounts about our Health Plan.”

“Like many scams that target the elderly, the misinformation being spread is endangering our most vulnerable members. By directing Plan participants to unofficial websites rather than the Plan’s official, vetted and accurate website, they are confusing people who need to connect with the Plan to ensure they have appropriately transitioned to their new coverage,” Carteris said. “Further, efforts to minimize the importance of the 80% COBRA premium discount the Plan is offering for transitioning participants are preventing eligible participants from reaching out to benefit from this crucial transition program.”

SAG-AFTRA’s national board condemned “those who seek to use the financial challenges to the Health Plan and the related changes to generate fear or anger in furtherance of personal agendas” and promised to take “appropriate action to ensure that members are not deceived by misrepresentations.” The board gave no specifics as to what those actions would be were not specified.

The union insisted in its Dec. 4 message that the trustees had no other choice except to make the cuts: “The idea that premium increases or higher employer contributions alone could have fixed the Health Plan is simply wrong. The root of the problem is the exorbitant cost of healthcare — a problem made worse by our industry’s production shutdown due to the pandemic crisis. The cost of healthcare remains a top issue for Americans, and the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan is not immune from this and other economic forces. Structural changes were required to put the Plan on a secure footing now and into the future.”

In response, the opponents said in their Dec. 6 announcement via the SOS Health Plan, “In their email, SAG-AFTRA conflates sound observations with utterly misleading assertions. We agree that healthcare costs and the industry shutdown are massive problems. But, the root of this plan’s problems is poor management.”

Asner’s suit asserts that the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan Trustees knew soon after the SAG and AFTRA health plans merged in 2017 that the health benefit structure was not sustainable.

“What has led to ‘anger and frustration’ are the draconian changes that harmed thousands of Participants,” SOS Health Plan said. “In 2017 SAG and AFTRA Health Plan Participants were assured the new SAG-AFTRA Health Plan would ‘be financially sustainable for all members for years to come’ and merging the Plans would ‘strengthen the overall financial health of the Plan while ensuring comprehensive benefits for ALL Participants.’”