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The Coalition of Broadway Unions & Guilds Demands Health Care Relief in Upcoming New York State Budget

The Coalition is demanding a COBRA subsidy for workers in the amount of $3.75 million.

The Coalition of Broadway Unions & Guilds Demands Health Care Relief in Upcoming New York State Budget

The Coalition of Broadway Unions & Guilds, a group of 18 unions representing workers both on and off stage in New York State and beyond, has kicked off a campaign to demand health care relief in the upcoming New York State budget.

"Securing health care relief is a top priority for the Broadway Unions and Guilds. Theatre workers are suffering. Almost all lost their jobs last spring, which means they've also lost health care for themselves and their families. Health care relief must be included in the upcoming New York State budget," said COBUG Co-Chairs Joe Hartnett, Co-Director, Stagecraft Department, IATSE and Laura Penn, Executive Director, SDC.

"We must proactively support arts and entertainment workers with COBRA subsidies in order to make certain that these workers are here, and healthy, when our industry is ready to re-open," Hartnett and Penn continued.

As the initial action in its campaign for health care relief, the Coalition sent letters last week to the Hon. Neil D. Breslin, Senate Insurance Committee Chair; the Hon. Richard Gottfried, Assembly Health Committee Chair; the Hon. Gustavo Rivera, Senate Health Committee Chair; and the chairs of eight other committees, including Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, the Chair of the New York State Assembly Insurance Committee.

In these letters, COBUG urged these representatives to update and fund the New York State COBRA subsidy program. The COBRA program allows workers who have lost their jobs to continue their employer health care. Without a COBRA subsidy, the cost of continuing health care is prohibitive to workers.

The Coalition is demanding a COBRA subsidy for workers in the amount of $3.75 million, a level on par with the original funding of the program, which was first enacted in 2004.

In its letter to Assemblyman Cahill, the Coalition wrote, "Entertainment is one of New York's greatest financial engines, with a $10 billion annual output. The governor and legislature must support entertainment workers during this difficult time. COBRA subsidy is a concrete way to show your public support for these workers."

In its letter, the Coalition also makes the following points:

The live entertainment industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eleven months ago, tens of thousands of workers on Broadway, at Lincoln Center, in NYC, and across the state saw their livelihoods disappear overnight. Stages have gone dark and ticket sales have collapsed to zero. As a consequence, our members have suffered debilitating loss of income, made unbearable when combined with the loss of health insurance for themselves and their families. Not only is this a personal crisis for thousands of workers, it's also a crisis for the state of New York, as our highly skilled workforce begins to relocate, consider other trades, or face economic hardship unimaginable 12 months ago. There is a practical solution that will ease the pain for many of our members and for workers across the state.

From 2010 through 2019, the state helped more than 1,150 entertainment workers keep their health insurance through the state COBRA subsidy. The subsidies during that period made it possible for those workers to sustain their health care by subsidizing 50% of the premium. Quite simply, COBRA subsidy is part of the safety net, a bridge back to coverage for entertainment workers who lose coverage because of the episodic nature of their employment. In this time of COVID-19, the New York State COBRA subsidy for the entertainment industry is essential to the survival of our workforce.

COBRA subsidy reduces healthcare costs to the state. If people can stay on their union-sponsored plans, they will be more likely to stay healthy and productive, and less likely to require assistance through other state health programs. There are a record number of entertainers who are losing their union coverage for the first time in many years, if not decades.

Although many people are eligible for low-cost coverage through the ACA (The Affordable Care Act) or the New York State Essential Plan or Medicaid, it's very difficult to find a plan that is accepted by all your providers. All state-subsidized plans in New York are HMOs or EPOs with limited networks. Most people have to drop their providers or find new ones when they go on state-subsidized healthcare. This can have serious consequences for those receiving any kind of life-saving treatment-including mental health services, where the provider/patient relationship is key. COBRA subsidy would allow workers to keep their own doctors during their time of greatest need.

Yesterday, NYS Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner (Chair, Assembly Labor Committee), Assemblyman Kevin A. Cahill (Chair, Assembly Insurance Committee) and Assemblyman Daniel J. O'Donnell (Chair, Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development) issued a letter of support to Carl E. Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly urging continuation of Section 1122 of the Insurance Law, to provide health insurance continuation assistance during this public health crisis. "The livelihoods of hardworking New Yorkers in the Entertainment Industry have been impacted like few others by the pandemic. The last thing they can afford is to lose their health care too."

Individuals are encouraged to write letters of support for the COBRA subsidy to their local representatives (https://actionnetwork.org/letters/help-workers-maintain-their-health-coverage/).


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