The changes made to the union policy has made it more difficult for performers to renew their coverage.
A group of Screen Actors Guild members are suing the SAG-AFTRA health plan and its board of trustees. The complaint was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging a breach of fiduciary duty, among other accusations.
The plan recently announced that it would be more difficult for many actors to renew their coverage.
The changes made to the SAG-AFTRA health plan were announced this summer. Trustees implemented the changes in the face of notably higher healthcare costs brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to the industry shutdown’s financial strains. According to the lawsuit, these changes would make it unreasonably difficult for thousands of performers and actors to be able to retain the medical coverage they already have.
The alterations to the plan have drawn substantial controversy. They include no longer permitting actors aged 65 years and older who vested their pensions to be able to count their earnings from residuals in the annual income threshold in order to maintain their health coverage. The changes also removed the “age and service” criterion, which made it possible for actors over the age of 40 years and who have at least a decade of credits to be able to qualify for a reduced level coverage of $13,000 in annual earnings.
The lawsuit alleges that the SAG-AFTRA health plan changes do not comply with performer rights.
“In 1960, all SAG performers gave away their right to all television residuals on all movies produced prior to 1960 in exchange for the studios’ commitment to seed and establish a pension and health plan for all members,” states the suit. “The health plan for which they personally sacrificed to begin for all members has now abruptly abandoned them.”
The lawsuit underscores the struggle many of the industry’s actors are facing as work is increasingly difficult to find and they simultaneously either face higher earnings thresholds to qualify for coverage or have lost their coverage altogether.
As many productions have ground to a halt as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and safety measures, many of the 160,000 members of the union are finding that it’s difficult or impossible to find work. The SAG-AFTRA health plan rule changes have made it more challenging to qualify for coverage at a time when the available work has been greatly reduced.