SAG, AFTRA Health Plans Move Towards Merger (Exclusive)

Koury Angelo
David White

SAG-AFTRA national executive director David White cites "significant progress" as the union and management discuss final design of a combined plan.

The SAG and AFTRA health plans — still separate even though the respective unions joined in 2012 — have moved closer to merger, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. Combining the health plans would fulfill a key promise that animated the union merger and is expected to ease availability of health coverage for SAG-AFTRA members.

Currently, union members’ earnings are attributed to either the SAG plan or the AFTRA plan in order to determine whether they have met the minimum earnings thresholds necessary to qualify for coverage. If a member falls short of the thresholds on both plans, there is some ability to cross-credit earnings, but this reciprocity or “combined earnings eligibility,” announced in 2013, is seen as a stopgap solution.

“Although the detailed process of establishing a combined health plan for all of our participants has been challenging, I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress toward our objective,” said David White, the union’s national executive director, in an email to SAG-AFTRA board members Friday, a copy of which was obtained by THR. “Among other points, we are engaged in discussion with management on the final design of the combined health plan.”

A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson confirmed the content of the email.

In a key observation, White said that the new plan would be similar to the existing SAG plan. “Based on these discussions, the structure of the new plan will closely resemble the structure of the SAG Plan, with at least two levels of benefits (e.g., Plan I and Plan II) providing coverage for both members and their qualified family members.”

Added White, “Eligibility for each tier will depend on the level of a member’s covered earnings (as it does today) and the various alternate routes for eligibility for particular groups or individuals will continue as they currently exist for both the SAG and AFTRA Plans.”

Unknown at this time whether the qualifying thresholds for coverage would change. Currently, a member has to earn $30,750 in a year in order to qualify for SAG Plan I, the more desirable of the two SAG plans. Qualifying for SAG Plan II requires $15,100 in covered earnings, or various alternate methods involving the number of days worked, the performer’s age, or combined earnings eligibility (reciprocity) with AFTRA earnings.

The AFTRA structure is different: rather than two tiers, there is an individual plan, which requires $10,000 in covered earnings, and a family plan, which requires $30,000.

“Our goal is to achieve the best mix of available benefits for participants and the long-term financial viability of the new plan,” said White in the email. “Importantly, Union and Management Trustees of both Plans recognize the singular importance of this merger and are meeting regularly to finalize the key decisions and finer details of this process.”

White is a member of both the SAG and AFTRA plans’ boards of trustees. The plans are legally separate from each other and from the union, and are each governed by boards of trustees that are composed of equal numbers of management and labor representatives.

Although the health plans are now closer to merger, the SAG and AFTRA pension plans are a different matter. Pension plans are much more economically complex than health plans, and so any merger or restructuring of the pension plans remains a future task.

White indicated in his email that additional details on the health plan merger would be announced at the SAG-AFTRA board’s next meeting, which is set for July 11.

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Email: jh@jhandel.com

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