Health insurance premiums will increase for members of Actors’ Equity as fund trustees grapple with maintaining insurance coverage while theaters are closed.
The quarterly premium will increase to $300 from $100 beginning in August. The increase comes as trustees attempt to address challenges caused by the pandemic, as contributions from employers cease and as participants are no longer able to meet eligibility requirements.
“Increasing costs, when many members have limited or no income, is a difficult choice,” the trustees wrote in a communication to members. “However, with this change, the Equity-League Health Fund will be able to continue to offer coverage to the most members for the longest period of time at premiums similar to those paid by members of other entertainment unions. “
The Equity-League Health Fund is governed by a board of trustees, with half appointed by Equity and the other half by the Broadway League.
Traditionally, the health fund has been largely supported by employer contributions. Stage managers and actors earn health insurance coverage based on the number of weeks worked.
However, that model has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. After Broadway theaters closed on March 12, producers agreed to pay about three weeks of healthcare coverage, in addition to salary and other benefits. The League and theatrical unions agreed to discuss further contributions, but additional payment has not yet materialized.
In acknowledgement of the financial hardship caused by the closure of the industry, the fund waived premium payments in May, June and July. The payment dates are staggered depending on when the member enrolled in the plan.
The duration of the $300 premium rate remains uncertain, according to a spokesperson for the fund, and depends on the length of the pandemic as well as the possibility of government relief.
The other challenge to the structure of the fund comes as actors and stage managers are currently unable to earn weeks of work for eligibility. Some are on the cusp of losing coverage due to their inability to work, according to a spokesperson for the fund.
To help fill in the gap for some members, the fund has created a new medical plan, Cigna Silver, with a $250 monthly premium. That plan will be available to members who are due to lose coverage on June 1 or July 1 or who have earned at least nine weeks toward eligibility. The continuance of that plan also depends on the timeline of the pandemic and federal aid.
Actors’ Equity, along with other affiliated entertainment unions, has been calling on the federal government to provide health insurance subsidies to members of the entertainment community who have lost coverage due to the impact of COVID-19.
A COBRA subsidy, which would cover premium payments for workers, was included in the Heroes Act, which was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill awaits a vote by the Senate.
A previous version of the article misstated the new premium amount. It has been corrected.