Entertainment Industries Lobby for Health Benefits
Volume CI, No. 7/8July, 2001
On June 5, members of the Entertainment Industry Health Insurance Coalition traveled to Albany to lobby for the COBRA Subsidy Bill (A.7660/S.3043). This bill would create a subsidy for the payment of 50 percent of the COBRA premium, for a period of up to one year, for entertainment industry workers who meet the eligibility requirements. The annual income level for participation will be approximately $33,000. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Roy Goodman and Assemblymember Richard Brodsky, both of whom have been ardent arts advocates.
The lobbying group included representatives from Local 802, The Actors’ Fund, Screen Actors’ Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Actors’ Equity Association, The Recording Academy/MusiCares, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers, the Episcopal Actors Guild, the American Guild of Variety Artists, and the American Guild of Musical Artists.
Two lobbying teams, each representing the many affiliations listed above, met with 12 legislators or members of their staffs during the course of the day. The offices that were visited included Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Senators Roy Goodman, John Marchi, Martin Connor and Kemp Hannan, Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver and Assemblymembers Richard Brodsky, Herman Farrell, Richard Gottfried, Pete Grannis, Cathy Nolan and John Ravitz.
The proposed legislation is of great importance to entertainment industry workers because of the transitory nature of the business. Fully 37 percent of those receiving benefits from industry union health funds lose their eligibility in any 12-month period. Musicians have particularly difficult hurdles to overcome: although their work is technically episodic, practicing music and looking for work is a full-time gig. But failure to work the requisite hours or earn the required minimum contribution causes many 802 members to lose eligibility for insurance.
Many workers in our industry cannot afford to take advantage of COBRA to bridge periods of low employment. With individual COBRA rates averaging $264 a month for entertainment industry unions – and family rates as high as $700 or $800 a month – more than 70 percent of those who are offered COBRA do not enroll, usually because they can’t afford it.
A COBRA subsidy would enable many performers to afford COBRA and thereby maintain continuous insurance coverage – a requirement if they want to avoid waiting periods for coverage of pre-existing conditions. They would also be able to remain with their current providers until they regained eligibility for a union plan.
The union lobbyists urged legislators to enact the bill – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it would maintain participation in the private health insurance sector and reduce the number of uninsured people using public health services. They pointed out that the subsidy is an efficient use of health dollars because payments go entirely for benefits, not toward marketing, enrollment, or other non-health related costs.
They also reminded lawmakers of the economic impact of assisting members of an industry that is essential to the state’s economic health. Statistics compiled by the League of American Theatres and Producers show that box office receipts have continued to rise, reaching almost $700 million last year. The New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that an all time high of 39.4 million visitors will visit New York City this year, spending an estimated $17.1 billion. And in addition to Broadway, the night life industry (which includes venues with a cabaret license or featuring live music) has a substantial economic impact on New York City. The New York Nightlife Association estimated that this sector earned $2.9 billion and contributed an estimated $109 million in city and $110 million in state tax revenues in 1997.
Both the Assembly and Senate Health Committees have passed the COBRA Subsidy Bill, which has now gone to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Rules Committee. 802 members have an important role to play in lobbying for this bill. The Political/Legislative Department has sample letters and emails for both the Assembly and Senate. Please call Heather Beaudoin at (212) 245-4802 to find out how to get involved.