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Equity-League Health Fund addresses areas of concern about new health plan

The Equity-League Health Fund has addressed some of the concerns expressed by Actors’ Equity about changes to health coverage.

The closure of Broadway theaters has strained the resources of the Equity-League Health Fund. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

The Equity-League Health Fund has addressed some of the concerns expressed by Actors’ Equity about changes to health coverage.

The health fund, which is a separate entity from Actors’ Equity, said it will study the potential impact its new coverage options may have on members of color and offer a COBRA subsidy to new parents who lose coverage. The Equity-League Health Fund announced plan changes Thursday evening, in which Equity members will need to work 16 weeks to qualify for six months of coverage, an increase from the 11 weeks currently needed to qualify.

In response to the changes, Actors’ Equity, which appoints half of the trustees who govern the Equity-League Health Fund, had said it was worried earning health coverage in six-month increments could disenfranchise members who are Black, indigenous or people of color, pregnant or live outside major cities. The new plan is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Regarding concerns about pregnant members, fund trustees said Friday that the plan will offer a parental benefit for those due to lose coverage. The fund will provide a three-month COBRA subsidy, so that the participant pays no more than $250 per month, following the arrival of the child. However, there are restrictions on who can receive these subsidies, based on the timing of the child and the amount of coverage left on the Equity-League health plan.

Equity confirmed that it is in the preliminary stages of working with the Equity-League Health Fund to gather demographic data and study the impact the new plan could have on BIPOC members. After collecting the data, the Equity-League fund trustees said they will examine options for making changes to the fund.

However, the trustees noted that a plan with fewer than 12 weeks of required work for coverage may not meet the needs of its members and may not meet the standard for minimum value under the Affordable Care Act.

“In other words, the cost required from participants when receiving care would be prohibitively high,” the trustees said.

Equity had asked its trustees to withdraw support for the new plan so that a study on these issues could be conducted before a new plan was implemented. However, trustees voted to approve the plan before the demographic study was conducted.

Health fund trustees have argued that they needed to move forward with changes as soon as possible in order to maintain coverage.

“What is clear right now is that immediate action is needed to respond to the disastrous impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our Health Fund,” the trustees said in a statement. “If we don’t make these benefit changes now, there won’t be a Fund in the future.”

The fund currently has $90 million in reserves and trustees expect that amount to fall to below $21 million by mid-2021, if the industry shutdown continues. Under the current plan, trustees may not be able to pay benefits by the end of 2021.

The new plan employs three tiers of coverage, in which members who work at least 12 weeks will qualify for lower tiers of coverage with restrictions on health care providers and with higher co-pays. The highest tier, earned by working 16 weeks, offers similar coverage to the current plan.

These tiers have been met with concern that only Broadway actors, or those who are able maintain steady employment, would be able to qualify for the best coverage. The trustees said Friday that it believed members outside the major markets would be able to meet the needed threshold.

“Looking at Fund data from 2019, 65% of participants who would have qualified for Tier 1 did so without any work on Broadway or touring productions, whereas just 23% would have qualified for Tier 1 with only this type of work,” the trustees wrote.