New possible health care benefit rule roils theater world

Individuals who work at least 12 weeks will qualify for low-tier plans with higher co-payments and additional restrictions

The U.S. labor union that represents more than 51,000 theater actors and stage managers is blasting a proposal that would raise eligibility requirements for members to receive health care during the pandemic.

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The Equity-League Pension Health Fund on Thursday proposed hiking the number of weeks of employment needed to qualify for six months of health care coverage from 11 weeks to 16 weeks. The proposal would start on Jan. 1, 2021. Individuals who work at least 12 weeks will qualify for low-tier plans with higher co-payments and additional restrictions.

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The proposal has angered Actors’ Equity Association, which has been lobbying for more access to health care for its members, especially during the pandemic when members are out of work. The Equity-League Benefit Funds is a separate organization.

"We all understand that there is no escaping the devastating loss of months of employer contributions nationwide, and no alternative aside from making adjustments to the plan. But I believe that the fund had both the obligation and the financial reserves to take the time to make better choices,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association.

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Many actors and stage managers have been unable to qualify for the necessary weeks of work for eligibility since theaters went dark in March. Equity represents actors and stage managers across the nation.

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, which represents producers. It provides health, pension and 401(k) benefits. In August, it hiked up quarterly premiums for health care and prescription drug plan coverage to $300 from $100.

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In a statement, the fund said: "The past six months have been among the most difficult any of us has ever faced. We recognize the emotional and financial burdens you are facing." It added: “After looking at many different approaches, the Trustees have developed a solution that balances meaningful coverage with the long-term sustainability of the fund.”