See Local 802 Executive Board member and Musicians Health Fund trustee
Martha Hyde’s detailed article on the COBRA program (online only).
Imagine you’re playing a Broadway show and you qualify for the Local 802 health plan. Then, unfortunately, your show closes and you are unable to find any other union work for the moment. What happens to your health coverage?
First of all, there is a time lag. The Local 802 health plan works in six month periods, so you don’t lose your health coverage the moment your show closes. You may have as much as six months of health care remaining to you.
But, finally, the day will come when your health coverage will indeed end.
The best solution is to find more union work, or even to take some nonunion gigs and give Local 802 the chance to make that work union.
To talk to someone about turning your nonunion gigs into union ones, contact Recording Vice President John O’Connor at (212) 245-4802, ext. 110 or Joconnor@Local802afm.org.
Or, if you teach private lessons or if you are a bandleader, contact Contract Administration Supervisor Michael Donovan at (212) 245-4802, ext. 141 or mfdonovan@Local802afm.org and ask him about getting on the union’s health plan using LS-1 contracts or music services contracts.
If you can’t do that, you still have three options:
- Buy your own health insurance on the private market.
- Investigate low-cost or charity care, or government care like Medicaid or Medicare. (Everyone is entitled to Medicare when they turn 65.)
- Use the COBRA program to stay on the Local 802 health plan temporarily – and possibly, for free! More on that below.
If you choose options #1 or #2, feel free to contact the union’s Musicians’ Assistance Program at (212) 245-4802, ext. 180 or MAP@Local802afm.org. Cindy Green, the union’s social worker, has resources on private health care for freelance musicians and she also has information on charity care and government care.
But let’s talk about option #3, the COBRA program.
COBRA is an acronym for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which was passed in 1996.
In short, the purpose of the law is to allow people to pay out of pocket to keep their health insurance for a limited time if they lose their job. (If you’re laid off or if your show closes, you qualify. If you’re fired, you don’t. These are just some of the many details and fine print.)
So the good news is that the COBRA program lets you keep your health insurance if you lose it. The bad news is that you have to pay for it out of pocket. However, there is actually some more good news.
Thanks to the efforts of Local 802 and other entertainment unions, New York State will pay some of the COBRA premiums of entertainers.
And, thanks to President Obama’s stimulus package, the federal government will also pick up some of the tab.
The upshot is this. If you’re a New York State resident, the combination of state plus federal subsidies means that you could have no COBRA payments for a full year.
To put it simply, it means that if you lose your health coverage from Local 802, you can continue it for up to a year for free.
Another option is to have 27 months of subsidized coverage, where you pay a small amount each month. This involves using the federal subsidy for 15 months, then the state subsidy for 12.
Even if you don’t live in New York State, the federal subsidy still applies to you.
Does all of this sound complicated? It is. And, as Tom Waits said, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away. There are tons of details to this program and various ways to play the system. Not everyone will qualify.
But the thing to know is that if you lose your Broadway show, or if you fall off the union’s health plan for whatever reason, there is hope.
If that happens, please call the union’s health department at (212) 245-4802 and ask about the COBRA program.
Additionally, Local 802 member and Executive Board member Martha Hyde is also a trustee on the union’s health fund. She knows the COBRA program backwards and forwards and has put together a highly detailed piece for members who want to know the exact figures involved.