In the middle of a pandemic, SAG-AFTRA just made it harder for actors to qualify for health coverage

By Kirk McKeand
14 August 2020 10:13 GMT

Like everyone in the middle of the hellworld of 2020, video game actors are struggling to find work.

Performance capture – where actors physically do an on-camera performance in a studio – is essentially off the table when lockdown rules prevent gatherings in enclosed spaces.

For now, many actors are working from their home setups taking the occasional voice over job. With productions scaled back and many video games facing delays, there’s less work to go around.

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In the world of movies, many actors survive on residuals – a piece of the pie from the earnings of a production – but that’s pretty much unheard of in video games. On top of that, there’s no conventions, so actors can’t earn by working the convention circuit. Like I said, everyone has it bad, and actors are in a difficult place as well.

In the middle of all of this, SAG-AFTRA – an organisation I always considered a force for good – is making it harder for actors to qualify for health coverage.

“Already, less than 20% of our members qualified for healthcare pre-COVID,” SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Local’s board of directors member Shaan Sharma told Deadline. “With this week’s announcement, the Health Plan has now made it much harder to qualify – particularly for seniors; raised premiums and reduced benefits during the worst health and economic crisis of our lifetimes.”

For the first time in seven years, Sharma will be losing his health coverage, due to the changes that are coming into place in January 2021. SAG-AFTRA says the changes are in response to projected deficits for this year and next.

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“Without restructuring the Health Plan, we are projecting a deficit of $141 million this year and $83 million in 2021 and, by 2024, the Health Plan is projected to run out of reserves,” reads the memo. “We must prevent this from happening.”

Previously, SAG-AFTRA membership also covered spousal health coverage, but the new rules say that spouses who are entitled to health coverage at their own employer must move to their coverage and off the SAG-AFTRA plan.

The new plan also eliminates the tier-two offering, which allows actors who earn $18,040 a year to qualify for health coverage. Under the new plan, members must make $25,950 to qualify, in a world where there are fewer opportunities.

There’s currently a petition to pressure SAG-AFTRA to revert the changes, with over 5,000 signatures and climbing.

The petition gives a good summary of the worst changes:

“In the middle of a global pandemic our union and producer trustees that comprise the Board of the SAG/AFTRA Health Plan have made the unconscionable decision to make the following changes to the SAG/AFTRA Health Plan:

“-Premiums will see a huge increase— doubled for most

“-Major increase to the required annual earning in order to qualify for health insurance: tier 2 insurance has been eliminated (everyone now needs to earn $25,950 in order to receive coverage)

“-Eliminated the out of pocket maximum

“-Forced retirees (the union’s most vulnerable members) to give up their health insurance that they spent their careers earning plus their residuals no longer count towards the $25,950 needed for insurance if they are retired and taking pension.

“-Insurance no longer available to spouses if their employer offers any kind of plan.

“-Eliminated out of network benefits

“These are just a few of the horrendous changes being made with barely FIVE MONTHS notice in the middle of a global pandemic when there is no work to be had. This is putting SAG/AFTRA members and their families lives in danger. We must put pressure on the health plan union and producer trustees to overturn these changes immediately.”

Perhaps the most inhumane change is the one aimed at retirees. We already know that COVID-19 affects the elderly disproportionately, yet SAG-AFTRA is pulling their health insurance out from under them. It’s disgraceful and the union should be ashamed.

Sign the petition.

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