Lights, camera, no action: Insurance woes beset entertainment workers

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By Michelle Andrews | Kaiser Health News

Before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the entertainment industry in March, Jeffrey Farber had a steady flow of day jobs in film and television, including work on “Hunters” and “Blue Bloods.” But when theaters, movies and TV shows stopped production, not only did Farber lose his acting income, he also stopped accruing the hours and earnings he needed to qualify for health insurance through his labor union, SAG-AFTRA.

Without acting jobs, his insurance would be ending this month.

“This is an unbelievable situation,” said Farber, 65, a survivor of pancreatic cancer. “There are going to be so many people who aren’t going to be able to make it.”

When the pandemic halted film and television production, Jeffrey Farber lost his acting income and stopped accruing the hours and earnings he needed to qualify for health insurance through his labor union, SAG-AFTRA.(MICHAEL ROMAN)

From Broadway to Hollywood, many actors, directors, backstage workers, musicians and others in the performing arts face similar coverage suspensions. Those in the entertainment industry often have several employers over the course of a year as they move from show to show. In some ways, they’re quintessential gig workers.

Their employers generally make financial contributions to a benefit fund under the terms of the union contract. And the workers pay premiums on their coverage. If workers accumulate a predetermined number of hours or earnings, they can qualify for coverage for up to a year. Coverage is typically comprehensive and quite inexpensive. Farber paid just $408 every three months to cover him and his husband.

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It’s a model some academics think might work for others in the gig economy. “It makes coverage possible in industries like retail, construction and entertainment where it might not otherwise be offered,” said JoAnn Volk, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

As the COVID pandemic period has shown, it doesn’t always work well. Someone in the entertainment industry may be able to weather a dry spell without any work because he’s already qualified for coverage based on past employment. But once coverage lapses, this system could leave entertainers at a disadvantage over other workers returning to a more conventional job, where coverage can start immediately. Plus, members may continue to owe union dues, even though they aren’t eligible for health benefits.

The timing of the shutdown couldn’t be worse for Farber, who needed just 12 days of work or $249 …read more

Source:: Dailynews – News

      

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