Unite for Strength, part of the ruling coalition of SAG-AFTRA, is calling for unity as thousands of performers and their family members face losing their health coverage next year due to a restructuring of the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, which is projecting a $141 million deficit this year and $83 million next year.
More than 13,000 members and their supporters, led by the union’s Membership First opposition party, have signed a petition calling on the Plan’s trustees to scrap the changes.
Here is part of what UFS said in an email blast to members today:
“Nothing is as personal or emotionally charged as our health and the peace of mind that comes with having quality healthcare at an affordable price. Like you, we were shaken by the changes announced by the Health Plan last week. In the midst of an escalating pandemic, the timing could not be worse. The potential of reduced, or even lost coverage, is painful and frightening. The timing is particularly harsh when almost all of us are out of work. We all have family members who are front-line workers or know someone who has succumbed to COVID-19. So why are there changes to the Health Plan now? What can be done?
“The reality is that payments into the Health Plan must match claims for the Plan to remain solvent. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Two consecutive years of deficits caused by a staggering surge in health care costs—coupled with the gut punch of the global pandemic – have resulted in an unsustainable situation. As the Trustees have explained, changes are necessary so that the plan can, literally, survive.
“Who is to blame? Relentlessly rising healthcare costs are not something the Plan has control over. The best the Plan can do, like most other insurance plans, is to adjust coverage or premiums. The Trustees were obviously confronting extremely difficult choices and their actions, while necessary, resulted in an amount of change that is difficult to take in. Like all participants, they too are bound by these changes and it gives us hope that they are willing to lose their own coverage to ensure the long-term viability of the Plan.
“As we all know, health costs in America are the highest in the world, now consuming nearly one-fifth of our Gross Domestic Product. The federal government has little to show for its efforts beyond Medicare. It seems the private sector has mostly been left to find solutions on its own. Our industry is hardly alone in this matter. Unions, as well as everyone else, are caught in the crosshairs.
“The Union is fully separate from the Plan, both legally and functionally. Plan Trustees are appointed equally by studios/producers and the SAG-AFTRA Board, and owe their fiduciary duties to the Plan itself. Union dues we pay are separate from health plan contributions. The Union has had to make its own deep budget cuts, losing staff and programs. These are not easy choices. Nor do they offer a sustainable long-term solution. Something must be done about the availability and affordability of healthcare nationwide, and we urge you to make your voices heard where they count in our country’s politics, just as we plan to do.
“We are asking the same questions you are, and this is a lot of change in one go at a terrible time. We are with you in this. You’re not alone.”
The email urged members to attend a Health Plan Zoom presentation earlier today, and another on Wednesday, that “will address the most pressing questions and concerns. Many of our elected volunteers, including board members and delegates, are struggling and facing the same stark risk of not qualifying for the Health Plan under the new guidelines. It will be a tough road ahead but together, as one UNION, we will get through this.”
The Health Plan, the email notes, “has secured advisors for members losing coverage, and we are committed to sharing additional resources to support those in need in any way we can. In this together, Unite for Strength.”
The email ends by saying “In this together, Unite for Strength,” and then provides a link to the Zoom presentations, and a link to a donations page: “Support UFS – Donate Today.” A UFS source, however, said that the link to its donations page was “a glitch. We are not asking people for money. It was boilerplate that should have been removed” from the email blast.