The approximately 12,000 Screen Actors Guild members who have health benefits under the Screen Actors Guild Tier II Health Plan will begin paying privately for chemical dependency benefits beginning January 1, 2011 -- or doing without. This represents a serious setback for an industry where alcohol and drug abuse is rampant.
As we (Malibu Beach Recovery Center) have accepted Plan I and Plan II SAG insurance since 2008, we now plan to offer SAG Plan II members some creative alternatives to help them pay for treatment in 2011.
My husband Oleg Vidov is a member of the Screen Actors Guild which has a boutique, self-insured health care plan jointly operated by representatives of SAG and the entertainment industry. We have had SAG health insurance for more than 20 years, and have always been grateful to our Health Plan for its generous benefits and great customer service.
The difference between being Plan I and Plan II is how much you earned the previous 12 months from a combination of new movie roles, new appearances on TV and new commercials as well as residuals from repeat showings of older work. Many well-known actors whose careers have floundered have come to us as Plan II, only to become Plan I again after landing a good role.
Plan II tier actors have always had more limited benefits for chemical dependency than Plan I. But now they have none because of federal requirements that the SAG Health Plan comply with “The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act” which was signed into law in 2008. The tragedy is that the bill’s supporters expected it to increase, not decrease, mental health and substance abuse benefits for the country's insured.
On December 23, 2010 Russell Adams and Avery Johnson, writing for The Wall Street Journal, said the Guild's health plan represents one of a small number of unions, employers and insurers that are scrapping such benefits for their enrollees because the 2008 Act requires mental-health and substance-abuse benefits, if offered, be as robust as medical or surgical benefits. By dropping such coverage, providers can circumvent the requirements.
The SAG Health Plan --which currently covers 40,000 actors, stuntmen, TV actors and musical performers -- is facing a $30 million deficit this year with projections of a $50 million deficit next year.
Dave McNary, who has been covering changes to the SAG Health Plan for Variety, the film industry’s daily trade paper, wrote: “The tightened requirements aren't a surprise in light of two negative trends that the SAG plan disclosed a year ago -- a 10% decline in employer contributions generated from employment-based earnings; and a 9% hike in healthcare costs.”
Plan administrator Bruce Dow told McNary then that there were three major factors leading to the losses:
- Increased costs of complying with the new health care reform bill and other governmental regulations
- The need to divert contributions from the Health Plan to the Pension Plan to improve its funding after the financial market collapse of 2008
- Reduced employer contributions from SAG's TV work (employers contribute 15% of what a SAG member earns to the Health and Pension Plans)
The Wall Street Journal further quoted Dow as saying: “Actuaries consulted by the plan determined that equalizing mental-health and substance-abuse coverage would double costs, to north of $3 million annually. That's on top of a deficit expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars in 2011…We're not in a position to afford it. This is unfortunate because we would have liked to have retained our existing programs."
After we opened the Malibu Beach Recovery Center in late 2007, my husband insisted we take SAG Insurance. Although we are private pay, and count among our clients actors who are able to afford treatment without using their insurance, Oleg wanted to provide working actors who have to use their insurance the same kind of boutique, luxurious setting enjoyed by current film and TV stars.
Too many actors complained of being sent by the Health Plan’s third party administrator to large institutional treatment centers which dedicate a significant number of beds to convicted criminals and gang members, or mix mental health and substance abuse patients. Those whose faces and names are familiar to all, even if they did not currently have the money to privately pay for treatment, were terrified that in such settings information about their addiction would surface in the press. This would not only be embarrassing, but could jeopardize their ability to be insured and bonded by film producers and distributors.
My husband also believed that actors would be particularly in sync with the holistic elements of our treatment program (low glycemic diet, yoga breath work, food supplements).
Concerns about the Health and Pension Plans were clearly a top priority for the Union during recent contract re- negotiations between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Both SAG and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (“AFTRA”) received a 10 percent funding increase to their pension and health funds from the Producers, the largest-ever dollar-value bump to these funds; unfortunately the concession was apparently not enough to roll back the Tier II cuts.
The real solution would be a dramatic change in the U.S. economy, meaning more films and TV series will again be made in this country under SAG jurisdiction, and fewer will be what is known as “runaway productions” (filming non-union or in other countries). But there are other problems affecting the fiscal health of the SAG Health Plan including TV work shifting to AFTRA, a new provision in the commercials contract that cuts so-called over scale employer contributions for top paid actors, and a 2.5% decline in 2008 due largely to the impact of the Writers Guild strike.
To its credit, SAG has come up with many creative contractual accommodations to allow actors to work legally in productions previously off limits.
But for now the economy is still floundering and SAG Plan II participants no longer have chemical dependency benefits. Malibu Beach Recovery Center urges those from the Tier II SAG Health Plan in need of treatment to call 800 366 8101 to discuss with us some creative financial alternatives.