Affordable Care Act to Be a Boon to Performing Arts Workers

By Robert Simonson
06 Jul 2012

President Barack Obama

Actors can get affordable insurance through their unions, but only after having worked a certain number of weeks a year. If, as is the case with many union members, they don't meet that criterion, they have to fend for themselves. The least-expensive HMO currently available in New York City, said Brown, comes from HIP. It costs a whopping $920 a month. As for those who attain union insurance, but then lose it when they fall into unemployment, they can take advantage of COBRA to hold on to their benefits, but at a cost of $600 or $700 a month.

The Affordable Care Act will alter this situation by giving actors more options and making health insurance more affordable.

"That's what ACA does," said Brown. "It reforms that market, it changes that market. That alone is a help and is tremendously significant for people in our industry. They're out there in the market trying to buy health insurance and that's a very expensive market."

The federal program will benefit actors in a variety of ways. In the most basic respect, insurance seekers will no longer be on their own. "The ACA allows the individual to be in the small group market," explained Brown. "They get the benefits of being part of a group. The law will by 2014 set up something called Exchanges, which are competitive marketplaces. These Exchanges will be multi-state. They'll be able to pick a plan from these Exchanges. Private insurers will compete. More people will buy it—people who couldn't afford it before—because their premiums will be subsidized."

Under Federal law, the official poverty level is currently just over $11,000 a year. Brown said he deals with a lot of theatre people who make between $25,000 and $45,000 a year. Under the ACA, people making under 400% of Federal poverty level—under $44,000—will now qualify for insurance premiums that are subsidized through tax credits, lower premiums and lower out-of-pocket costs. Also, "No one will be forced to pay more than eight percent of their income in health insurance," added Brown. "Essentially, they're defining what affordable health care is. It's why it's called the Affordable Care Act. It's really about the cost of insurance and bringing that cost down."

The law will also adjust the level at which suffering workers can qualify for Medicaid—something that will help actors get through a rough patch.

"We have people in this industry who have a bad year and their income drops precipitously," explained Brown. "Some of these people will now be eligible for Medicaid, because the law raises the eligibility for Medicaid around the country to 133% of the Federal poverty level. This is a huge change. In New York right now, your income would have to be below 78% of the Federal poverty level. You'd have to be really making about $8,500 a year. This will bring up the income level. This will be around the country, and it'll include actors who, because of the episodic nature of their work, have a bad year."