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 Film/TV/Streaming sector member 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 $41,773 during a period of four or fewer consecutive calendar quarters.
Visit the WGA Pension & Health Fund website (external – opens in a new window) for details on eligibility and coverage.
If you’re in the Broadcast/Cable/Streaming News or Online Media sectors or the nonfiction podcast industry and are 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.
If you’re in the Nonfiction television industry, you may have portable health coverage under the Entertainment Industry Flex Plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 (external – opens in a new window); 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 (external – opens in a new window), 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.
Update on COBRA Subsidy for Entertainment Professionals in New York as of April 2022
The New York State COBRA subsidy for entertainment industry employees (external – opens in a new window) was significantly improved as part of the 2022 New York State budget.
If you earned less than four times the federal poverty level in a one-month lookback period you can lock in the COBRA subsidy (and since most people are not working when they lose their health benefits, many will qualify), which means the state will now pay 75% of the COBRA premium for up to 12 months of subsidy over a five year period.
Staff at the PWGA health fund know about these improvements, but if you lose Guild health coverage and have to go on COBRA, make sure to remind them of the New York COBRA subsidy.
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 (external – opens in a new window), 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. Open Enrollment (external – opens in a new window) begins on November 1 and ends on December 15 each year. Outside of the Open Enrollment period, there are some circumstances under which individuals may be eligible for a Special Enrollment Period (external – opens in a new window). Visit the WGAE’s Working America Health Care website (external – opens in a new window) for more information.
I’m a freelance writer/producer without access to employer-provided health insurance or COBRA. What’s available to me?
- The Freelancers Union (external – opens in a new window)
- MediaBistro (external – opens in a new window)
Several insurers in New York offer insurance plans for the self-employed. Current premiums and benefits can be found at the eHealth plan comparison website (external – opens in a new window). As of 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 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. Visit the program website (external – opens in a new window) for more details.
Child Health Plus 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. For details, visit the Child Health Plus website (external – opens in a new window).
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 (external – opens in a new window) can direct you to the sliding-scale clinic closest to your home.
HHC Options 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. For more details, visit the HHC website (external – opens in a new window).
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 Entertainment Community Fund (formerly the Actors Fund) now operates The Samuel J. Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts. The Friedman Health Center is the medical care provider for New York City’s performing arts and entertainment community. Conveniently located in the heart of Times Square at The Entertainment Community Fund’s main office (729 Seventh Avenue, 12th Floor, between 48th and 49th Street), The Health Center offers quality care from The Mount Sinai Health System, free on-site health insurance counseling and much more.
The Friedman Health Center will offer primary and specialty care with extended hours that are sensitive to entertainment industry work schedules. The Health Center will accept commercial insurances, most Marketplace/Exchange plans, Medicare and Workers’ Compensation.
To make an appointment at The Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts, please call 212.489.1939, Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–5:00 pm. For more information and updates, visit the Health Center website (external – opens in a new window).
The Project Renewal Scan Van is the country’s first mobile mammography and radiology clinic for homeless and uninsured adults. ScanVan provides clinical breast exams, mammograms, tuberculosis (TB) tests, and health education to homeless and low-income men and women. The Scan Van parks on 57th and 10th the second Tuesday of every month but they do need to make an appointment. They are in other locations throughout the week. Call for an appointment at 631-581-417, or visit the Project Renewal website (external – opens in a new window) for more information.
Retail clinics like CVS’s Minute Clinic (external – opens in a new window) and Duane Reade’s Walk-In Medical Care (external – opens in a new window) 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 (external – opens in a new window)) 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 or visit the UnionPlus website (external – opens in a new window) for more 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 offers a comprehensive database (external – opens in a new window) 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 (external – opens in a new window) and New York University Kriser Dental Center (external – opens in a new window) 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 here (external – opens in a new window).
The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center & The Entertainment Community Fund
AHIRC, a program of The Entertainment Community Fund (formerly 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 (external – opens in a new window) 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 the AHIRC program website (external – opens in a new window).
The Entertainment Community Fund (formerly 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 Entertainment Community Fund has been a safety net for those in need, crisis or transition. Learn more on the Entertainment Community Fund’s website (external – opens in a new window).
The Entertainment Community Fund also offers weekly informational webinars on getting affordable healthcare coverage on Thursdays. Learn more about Every Artist Insured: Getting Affordable Coverage in NY/NJ webinars (external – opens in a new window).
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 use the agencies listed in this document as needed. You should also not hesitate to contact your WGAE Business Agent (or Field Representative) 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; firstname.lastname@example.org) for Film/TV/Streaming sector writers and producers;
- Michael Isaac (212.767.7875; email@example.com) for Broadcast/Cable/Streaming News sector 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 Entertainment Community Fund, How to Get Affordable Health Care in New York City. Find more information and guidance at the Entertainment Community Fund’s Health Insurance Resource Center (external – opens in a new window).
As a WGAE member and entertainment professional, several resources are available to you if you find yourself without insurance coverage and in need of medical care.