Hundreds Of Actors Sign Petition Calling On SAG-AFTRA Health Plan To Reverse Sweeping Changes To Benefits Coverage

More than 1,300 angry SAG-AFTRA members have signed a petition calling on the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan to overturn changes that will leave many members without health coverage during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Plan says that the changes, which go into effect January 1, are needed to keep the Plan solvent in the face of staggering deficits. Premiums and earnings eligibility requirements will be going up for many – though not “doubled premiums” or “nearly doubled” annual earnings, as the petition says. And recent retirees who are 65 or older won’t be allowed to use their residuals income to qualify for the new $25,950 annual earnings threshold.

See the petition here.

“I question the legality of these changes,” wrote petition-signer Frances Fisher, who is a SAG-AFTRA national board member and a vice president of the union’s Los Angeles Local. “Speaking personally and perhaps for every performer lucky enough to actually have a pension – we don’t ‘retire.’ I have to keep working to pay my bills. And now my dwindling residuals don’t count as earnings to help keep my health care? During COVID when only lucky stars are working? This is one of many things wrong here.”

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“This new health plan is egregious & undemocratic!” former CSI star Marg Helgenberger wrote. “And the most vulnerable are affected.”

“DON’T DO THIS!!” Tony Award winner Betty Buckley wrote in all caps.

“This couldn’t come at a worse time for the membership,” wrote actor Gregory Harrison.

Other commenters on the petition sounded a similar alarm; here are some of their posts:

“This is unconscionable. When I joined the union in ’97 everyone told me we had the best healthcare in the world through our union. How far we have fallen, and during this pandemic. We need to care for our people, not harm them.”

“One of the reasons we unionize is to fight for healthcare and pensions, and to have it stripped away is absurd.”

“This is INSANE!!!!”

“During a pandemic?!? Beyond despicable and shameful.”

“I can’t afford to lose my health care based on new impossible requirements. This is unethical and devastating!”

“Disgraceful! How dare they, during a pandemic, take health care away from the members, who have qualified for years on end!!”

“The absolute atrocity of doing this to our HEALTH INSURANCE during a world wide HEALTH CRISIS is beyond my realm of comprehension.”

Shaan Sharma, a member of the SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Local’s board of directors, told Deadline that this will be the first time in seven years that he’ll lose his health coverage. “Already, less than 20% of our members qualified for healthcare pre-COVID,” he said. “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.

“During a recent presentation, we were told that these changes have been in the works for years, which means SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director David White; general counsel and COO Duncan Crabtree-Ireland; chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez, and senior adviser John Maguire – who are all also Trustees of the Health Plan – knew this was coming while actively negotiating our last Commercials Contract and the Netflix Agreement last year, and the recently ratified TV/Theatrical Contract with the AMPTP this year.

“These same Executive Staff members did not disclose these coming changes to the Health Plan to our negotiating committee members for the TV/Theatrical contract negotiations. Had they done so, our negotiators and members could have taken action to ensure we secured terms that would keep our members insured. The TV/Theatrical contract negotiations were taking place during COVID when it was clear how crucial it was to protect the lives and healthcare of our members.

“It also explains why SAG-AFTRA’s National Leadership spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, while the union is under severe financial distress, misleading the members about the contract details, and pressuring members to vote YES on the contract. If our members had rejected the TV/Theatrical Contract, our negotiating committee would currently be back at the negotiating table. Our members would have the opportunity to demand action to structure a deal that protects our healthcare, such as putting more of the claimed $318 million in wage increases towards our health plan.”

The Health Plan told participants Wednesday: “While this restructuring will preserve access to an excellent health plan for the majority of our participants, the changes will be disruptive for some. Without restructuring the Health Plans, 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. We must prevent this from happening.”

Last year, the Plan paid out nearly $468 million to provide coverage for 65,000 participants and their families.

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