Help With Health Insurance

New Bill Gives Relief to Musicians

Volume CIV, No. 11November, 2004

Mikael Elsila

If you’ve fallen off your health insurance and need help paying your COBRA continuation premiums, you may be in luck.

After years of lobbying, a coalition of entertainment unions — including Local 802 — has succeeded in getting a new COBRA subsidy bill passed and signed into law.

The upshot of the law is that if you are an entertainer and you fall off your health insurance, the state may pay up to 50 percent of your COBRA costs to help you keep your health insurance, for up to one year.

COBRA is the federal law that allows workers who lose their group health insurance — by being laid off, for instance — to pay to keep their health coverage for a temporary period of time (usually 18 months).

Under the new state law, the state of New York will pick up some of the COBRA tab for eligible entertainers.

Local 802 members might take advantage of this new law as follows.

Let’s say a member subs a Broadway show and earns the union’s health plan. But then the Broadway show closes and the member is low on union work and falls off the union’s plan. The way

COBRA works is that the member can keep the plan by paying out of pocket for a temporary amount of time. Under the new law, the state may pick up half of the tab, for up to a year.

There are other details to the new law. One is that entertainers must make less than $19,365 a year to qualify. Also, you must live in New York. And the law doesn’t take effect until Nov. 22.

Members should not flood the Local 802 health department with phone calls, because the new law is being fully administered by the Actors’ Fund. Any member who has questions or who wants to apply under the law should call Janet Pearl at the Actors’ Fund at (212) 221-7300, ext. 184.


“The signing of this bill is a significant achievement, since twice as many workers in the entertainment industry are without health insurance compared to other Americans,” said 802 President David Lennon.

The bill was pushed by the Entertainment Industry Health Insurance Coalition, which is made up of entertainment industry unions, guilds, social service agencies, producers and theatre owners.

The coalition was formed in November 1999 as an advocacy group for health insurance legislation that would assist uninsured industry members. Its activities are coordinated by the Actors’ Fund, the industry’s oldest human services organization, and is sponsored by its founding members — Local 802, Equity, SAG, and AFTRA.

The sustained four-year grassroots campaign involved tens of thousands of letters, postcards, e-mails and phone calls from entertainment industry workers, petitions signed by the casts and crews of every Broadway and Off Broadway show, and the active participation of entertainment industry workers including union heads, theatre owners and well-known performers such as Jerry Stiller and Bebe Neuwirth.

Through this unprecedented effort, the coalition was able to make a compelling case for health insurance continuation assistance for an industry that generates billions of dollars for the state economy, yet sees more than 30 percent of its working members going without health insurance.

“The coalition met regularly to explore solutions to the problem of obtaining affordable, quality health insurance for entertainment professionals in New York State,” said Joseph Benincasa, executive director of the Actors’ Fund.


The bill was sponsored in the Assembly by Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) and in the Senate by Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau).

It received crucial support from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno who brought the bill to a successful vote in 2003 and 2004.

Richard Gottfried’s (D-Manhattan) and Peter Grannis’ (D-Manhattan) early backing of the bill was also a key component in its eventual success.

Any member who has questions or who wants to apply under the law should call Janet Pearl at the Actors’ Fund at (212) 221-7300, ext. 184.