Published February 19, 2014
Look out super heroes and villains, ObamaCare might be stealing the next plot line in upcoming blockbuster films.
Screen writers in New York City gathered Tuesday night to learn more about President Obama's health-care reform act in a forum hosted by the Writers Guild of America, East. The WGA is a labor union representing thousands of screenwriters for television and film, as well as online media.
Tuesday's forum, "The Affordable Care Act: Comedy, Drama & Reality: Portraying ObamaCare in TV & Film," included a panel with Julie Green Bataille, director of communications for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Wendell Potter, former head of communications for health insurance company CIGNA and author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out, and Trudy Liberman, contributing member at the Columbia Journalism Review.
The panel was co-moderated by Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East.
These meetings are held several times a year on "hot-button" issues, according to Lowell Peterson, executive director Writers Guild of America, East.
"We have panelists come talk about various public policy issues," Peterson says. "Our members find it interesting and hopefully they will find this forum useful."
Peterson estimates the WGA East holds three to four of these panels a year, and past topics have included drones, immigration and homeland security.The WGA East was approached by the Hollywood, Health & Society program at the Norman Lear Center on holding the panel.
The WGA expected between 30 and 50 members Tuesday night. The event had been in the works for months and was only open to WGA members, Peterson says.
The panelists were expected to present information on the intricacies of the ACA, according to Peterson, including the individual and employer mandates and the new coverage standards.
"It's all hyper-technical," he says. "[The law] appears in news and public affairs programming, but I am not sure how relevant it will be for episodic drama. Some of it is a bit arcane for most of our members."
When pressed on whether the forum would be a room filled with support for the president's reform, since many Hollywood stars have been open Obama supporters, Lowell objected.
"Looking outside my window right now, I don't see any palm trees," he says. "This is not Hollywood, this is New York. We have independent-minded members. You will get at least 15 different opinions-- there is no love fest."
In fact, Lowell, who says he personally leans toward union-negotiated benefits for members, says WGA East members are not easily swayed and that they won't be pushed into writing "anything in particular."
"We do have people who work on more political pieces and news documentaries, but for your average drama or comedy writer, I don't see how you can propagandize this. It's not the way our members think," he says. "I don't think the ACA is the way to go. We will have all of those opinions in the room tonight."
Potter, a panel member, declined to comment for the story, and Kaplan, co-moderator, could not be reached for further comment.
Aaron Albright, CMS spokesperson, says the panel participation is part of the continued education efforts the department is making as ACA rollout continues. The Obama Administration, CMS and HHS have enlisted celebrities, including Magic Johnson, Richard Simmons and Adam Levine to promote its "Get Covered" campaign, and in particular, to help target young adults to enroll.
“This is part of ongoing outreach efforts to raise awareness about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. We’re working closely with a range of groups across the country to reach the uninsured, and help get them enrolled in quality, affordable health insurance," Albright said in an email statement.
Every individual in the country has to have insurance by the end of open enrollment period on April 1, or face a fine of $95 a year or 1% of their annual income for failing to comply.
The employer mandate kicks in in 2015, which requires businesses with at least 100 or more full-time workers to offer their employees coverage, or they will face a fine of $2,000 per worker per year for failing to comply. This originally applied to businesses with 50 or more full-timers, but those with between 50-and-99 employees are now exempt until 2016.
Since open enrollment period kicked off on Oct. 1, 3.3 million Americans have enrolled in plans on either a state or the federal exchange. It is unclear how many of these people have paid their first month's premium, which is how the insurance industry typically defines insurance coverage and enrollment.