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As a Guild member you have access to health insurance benefits in a variety of ways, depending on your current work status.
If you’re a writer in screen, television, or digital media working under the MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement), you may be eligible for coverage in the Writers Guild-Industry Health Fund. In order to qualify for Guild coverage, you must have accumulated and had reported to the Fund (by your signatory employer) covered earnings of at least $36,457 during a period of four or fewer consecutive calendar quarters.
Visit the Health Fund website for details on eligibility and coverage.
If you’re a news employee working under a WGA contract, you are probably enrolled in your employer’s health benefits plan. However, members working at CBS Broadcast News are generally eligible for the Writers Guild-Industry Health Fund. Your shop steward, personnel officer, or the Guild representative assigned to your shop can provide information on your health insurance as well as on pensions, profit sharing and other benefits your employer may provide.
I’m a WGA East member in the New York area without health insurance. What should I do to get coverage?
As a film, television or new media writer and/or producer, you have three basic options for obtaining health insurance in New York:
- Employment-related coverage
- Private, direct-purchase plans
- Government-subsidized programs
What are my employment-related options?
Most Guild members get health insurance through their job, whether it is through the Writers Guild–Industry Health Fund (www.wgaplans.org); or through a separate company health insurance plan.
If your health insurance has expired, you can keep it active by opting into COBRA, which is a federal law that allows you to keep the group insurance you had through a job, a spouse’s job or a parent for up to 18 months (sometimes longer). In New York State, for example, you can keep COBRA coverage for up to 36 months. The cost can be high, but it is often less expensive than buying insurance on your own. You have 60 days from the date of your notification letter to elect COBRA coverage.
New York COBRA subsidy offers a special subsidy to people who have had insurance through an entertainment-union health insurance plan (e.g., the Writers Guild–Industry Health Fund). The subsidy pays for just under one-half of your monthly premium for up to 12 months. For more information, you can go here: http://www.dfs.ny.gov/consumer/cobra_entertainment.htm
WORKING AMERICA HEALTHCARE PROGRAM
The Working America Health Care program offers WGAE members who do not qualify for collectively bargained health coverage help to navigate the array of options available on the health care exchanges through the Affordable Care Act, compare costs and select the plan that best suits your needs. A licensed broker will explain the tax subsidies and credits available and help determine your eligibility. Once enrolled, you will receive a welcome packet from Health Advocate with contact information for your Advocate. Your assigned Advocate can help you coordinate care, and answer your coverage and claims and questions. You will always work with the same advocate. Nurses are on staff to answer clinical questions. Special Enrollment is available now through October 31, 2015. Open enrollment begins November 1, 2015. January 31, 2016 is the final application deadline for coverage in 2016. Visit the WGAE’s Working America Health Care website here: http://www.workingamericahealthcare.org/wgae
I’m a freelance writer/producer without access to employer-provided health insurance or COBRA. What’s available to me?
You may want to consider joining an association that allows you to buy health insurance at a reduced rate. Each association has different eligibility requirements. Associations include:
Several insurers in New York offer insurance plans for the self-employed. Current premiums and benefits can be found at www.ehealthinsurance.com. Beginning in January 2014, as a part of the Affordable Care Act, self-employed workers and their families must be included in the small-group market and will thus have the option of purchasing coverage through health insurance exchanges. This will greatly increase plan options for freelancers.
Am I eligible for partially government-subsidized health care programs?
Eligibility for almost all government health care programs is based on how much you are earning. Here are some options you can pursue if you find yourself having not earned all that much as a freelancer over the past year or two:
Healthy NY (www.healthyny.com) is a collaboration between New York State and private insurance companies. To be eligible, you must have worked in the last year and have a limited income. Coverage includes preventive and primary care, hospitalization and other services. There are premiums and co-payments, as well as a deductible. Note: Those who have had direct-pay private insurance in the past 12 months are disqualified from purchasing Healthy NY; those who have had employer insurance, COBRA or a government-subsidized insurance plan are eligible.
The NY Bridge Plan (www.nybridgeplan.com) is a temporary program that makes health insurance available to individuals with a pre-existing condition who have not had insurance in the six months prior to applying. The premiums are considerably less expensive than private insurance. The plan is a type of HMO administered by the private insurer GHI/Emblem Health and has comprehensive benefits, including immediate coverage of pre-existing conditions. Once you have the Bridge Plan, you can keep it until it the program expires on January 1, 2014, when guaranteed insurance will be available to everyone.
Child Health Plus (www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/chplus/index.htm) is a state program that makes health coverage available to anyone under the age of 19 who is uninsured. Any family can buy into it for a small monthly premium. Coverage is comprehensive and includes prevention, primary care, hospitalization and prescriptions.
I’m not eligible for employment-related coverage or government programs, and I can’t afford insurance.What should I do?
It is possible to get affordable health care without health insurance by taking advantage of sliding-scale programs at public hospitals and community clinics, which set fees based on your income; or by using retail clinics. The Bureau of Primary Health Care’s website (http://findahealthcenter.hrsa.gov) can direct you to the sliding-scale clinic closest to your home.
HHC Options (www.nyc.gov/html/hhc/html/access/hhc_options.shtml) is a discount program for New York City residents who receive care at public hospitals. It is not insurance. Eligibility depends on income, family size and assets.
Artist Access and Lincoln Art Exchange are different ways for artists to access the HHC Options program. It allows artists to barter performance or artistic activity for health care credits at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn and Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. Inquire at the hospital for more information.
The Actors Fund operates the Al Hirschfeld Free Health Clinic, which is a primary-care clinic for entertainment professionals and people in the performing arts. Eligibility guidelines are based on one’s years of service and earnings in the industry. All services are free. Call 212.489.1939 for an appointment.
Retail clinics like CVS’s Minute Clinic (www.minuteclinic.com) and Duane Reade’s Walk-In Medical Care (www.drwalkin.com/locations.html) offer less expensive treatment and preventive care for common conditions like strep throat and ear infections.
I can’t afford my medications. Can I get them for less… or even free?
Needy Meds (www.needymeds.org) has information on over 475 patient assistance programs which offer low-income, uninsured or underinsured patients free or low-cost medications.
Union Plus offers a free prescription saving card for discounts on medications. Call (877) 570-4845 for details.
I have mental health needs, and I don’t have insurance. What should I do?
If you are in crisis, call LIFENET at 1.800.LIFENET, or the Samaritans Suicide Prevention Hotline at 212.673.3000. Both hotlines are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Counselors can talk with you, and LIFENET can refer you to services in your area.
The National Mental Health Services Locator (http://store.samhsa.gov/mhlocator) offers a comprehensive database of mental health facilities, services, advocacy groups and resources. Substance-abuse treatment facilities are also listed.
I have a dental problem but no dental coverage. What should I do?
Both Columbia University College of Dental Medicine (www.dental.columbia.edu/patients/sdosclinics.html) and New York University Kriser Dental Center (www.nyu.edu/dental) offer dental services. The work is done by students, residents and faculty, and the cost is about half of customary fees. A list of hospital-based dental clinics and centers throughout the city that provide low-cost or free dental care to people with low incomes can be found at: www.nyc.gov/html/hia/html/resources/services_dental.shtml.
The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center & The Actors Fund
AHIRC, a program of The Actors Fund, was created in 1998 with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts to help people in entertainment and the arts find affordable health care and to reduce the number of uninsured artists. AHIRC offers in-person counseling in New York and Los Angeles, national telephone support, an Internet resource database (www.ahirc.org) with over a half-million visitors each year and over 100 health insurance workshops held at arts, cultural and human services organizations throughout the country. For more information, call 917.281.5975 or visit www.ahirc.org.
The Actors Fund is a national human services organization that helps everyone—performers and those behind the scenes—in performing arts and entertainment. Serving professionals in film, theatre, television, music, opera, radio and dance, the Fund’s essential programs include social services and emergency assistance, health care and health insurance resources, housing and employment and training services. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, for over 130 years the Actors Fund has been a safety net for those in need, crisis or transition. Learn more at www.actorsfund.org.
Your Guild Is Here For You.
As a WGAE member and entertainment professional, you have resources that are available to you if you find yourself without insurance coverage and in need of medical care. It is one of the most common problems that WGAE members face. You should utilize the agencies listed in this document as needed. You should also not hesitate to contact your WGAE Business Agent if you have any questions about health insurance options and/or questions about your writing contracts, residuals and basic rights on the job:
- Geoff Betts (212.767.7852; email@example.com) for film, television and new media freelance writers and producers;
- Jeff Schioppa (212.767.7827; firstname.lastname@example.org) for television and radio news writers and producers.
The WGAE is here to represent you and to stand up for your basic rights. It is a resource you should not hesitate to use.
NOTE: This information has been gathered and condensed from the comprehensive guide from the Actors Fund, How to Get Affordable Health Care in New York City. You can download the complete guide from the Actors Fund at http://www.actorsfund.org/others/pdfs/AHIRC/NewYorkAffordableHealthCareGuide.pdf