Entertainment Workers Win Access To Affordable Health Insurance

Health Benefits Update

Volume C, No. 11November, 2000

An important new source of affordable health insurance is now available to workers in the entertainment industry who lack such coverage. It’s the result of changes in New York State’s Health Care Reform Act 2000 (HCRA) that were recently won by a coalition of performing artists’ unions that includes Local 802.

Coverage for entertainment industry workers was achieved through “technical amendments” to HCRA. The changes make individuals who are self-employed and those with “episodic employment” eligible to enroll in the subsidized “Healthy New York” insurance plan. Also made eligible for the plan are those with lower incomes who have become ineligible for a union’s group plan because of reduced hours or income over a set period of time.

These amendments were approved by the State Assembly and Senate earlier this year. Gov. George Pataki officially signed off on them on Sept. 13.

Last December, passage of HCRA established a new state-subsidized insurance plan using funds made available from the tobacco industry settlement and an increase in the New York State cigarette tax. However, the initial HCRA legislation did not take into account the unique circumstances of entertainment industry workers, some 30 percent of whom have no health insurance. The changes will now make possible the inclusion of many working in our industry, including musicians.

The union coalition’s effort was initiated and coordinated by the Actors’ Fund of America. In addition to Local 802, the union group includes Actors Equity, Local 1 and the other New York IATSE locals, SAG, AFTRA, NABET, AGMA, AGVA, SSDC, the Writers Guild East and the Directors Guild East. The coalition hired Albany lobbyist Richard Winsten and health insurance specialist Barbara Caress to work on this effort.

The coalition’s work is continuing in Albany on a second part of the health care initiative. The unions are also proposing that HCRA money be set aside for a COBRA subsidy to help those who lose their eligibility for union or employer health plans. They would also like to see the Actors’ Fund designated as an enrollment site, focusing on the entertainment industry, for the Family Health Plus, Child Health Plus and Healthy New York insurance programs.