Isabelle McCalla, Caitlin Kinnunen and The Cast of The Prom perform on stage during the 2019 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 9, 2019 in New York City.
Theo Wargo | Getty Images
A little over a year ago, Caitlin Kinnunen sat shoulder to shoulder with the biggest Broadway names at Radio City Music Hall, listening to her read as a Tony nominee for Best Actress in a Musical.
This spring, Kinnunen was unemployed as an actor after the COVID-19 pandemic forced professional theaters to close. The 29-year-old eventually packed up her New York apartment and drove across the country to return to her parents’ home in Washington.
Now she faces a new threat: she will lose her health insurance.
Kinnunen and many professional stage actors earn their coverage by working a certain number of weeks each year. But with Broadway and almost all theaters across the country going dark until at least May 30th, it has become impossible to find work that will enable them to qualify. As a result, thousands anticipate loss of health insurance. Kinnunen has the added difficulty of living with type 1 diabetes.
“How will I live? How will I afford to live? Should I just find a career that will provide me with health care so I can continue the life I have built so far?” Kinnunen said in an interview with CNBC.
Kinnnunen said she can stay on her union-sponsored insurance until April. From then on, she will be fired as there are currently no contracts to be signed.
According to its Actors’ Equity union, its members accumulated around 265,000 working weeks for 2019 at the end of October last year. This year, the number of work weeks has dropped 65 percent to around 92,000 – a number that almost all includes three months of normal work before shutdown.
The lack of work weeks is pushing between 200 and 300 union members off their health insurance every month, Actors’ Equity told CNBC.
“If all contracts are gone because no one can actually go into the physical rooms, no one can accumulate work weeks,” said Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity, which represents both professional artists and stage managers. “So we have a lot of people who are very afraid of what will happen to their health care.”
The shutdown has drained the coffers of the Equity-League Health Fund, which is an independent entity managed separately from the union. 88 percent of the health fund is financed by employers such as producers and theater owners. The remainder consists of investment income and premiums paid by the participants.
A man wearing a surgical mask walks through Manhattan’s Broadway Theater district after Broadway shows announced that they would cancel performances due to the coronavirus outbreak in New York on March 12, 2020.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
However, employer contributions largely dried up when the theaters closed. The Health Fund expects its reserves to drop from $ 120 million pre-COVID to $ 30 million by the middle of next year if most of the theaters are not reopened.
In order to avoid a complete depletion of the reserves, the health insurance must changed The threshold for members who should receive insurance coverage from January 1st. Instead of working 11 weeks for six months of coverage, members now have to work 12 weeks for a lower level of coverage and 16 weeks or more for the same coverage as before, with higher deductibles, copays and maximum expenses.
It was a move that the union itself criticized publicly.
“We all understand that there is no way out of the devastating loss of months of employer contributions across the country and no alternative but to make adjustments to the plan,” Shindle said in one Explanation when the changes were announced on October 1st. “But I believe the fund had both the commitment and the financial resources to take the time to make better decisions.”
Those who have already lost coverage do multiple backups. Many are now qualifying for Medicaid because their income has come down low enough. Others choose to pay for it COBRAThis allows them to stay on the same plan but, in many cases, pay between $ 1,000 and $ 3,000 out of pocket each month.
Some are switching to market plans through the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in support of a case attempting to overthrow Obamacare. However, some of the court’s conservative judges did not appear ready to crush the legislation.
Kinnunen plans to switch to a marketplace plan if that is still possible by April. To do without health insurance, said Kinnunen, would be far too expensive.
The cost of an out-of-pocket diabetic – insulin, glucometer test strips, a portable device to monitor their glucose levels, and other supplies – runs to over thousands of dollars a month, she said.
“If I didn’t have insurance, my health care costs would be insurmountable,” said Kinnunen. “It’s not just, oh, I spend this money on things that make my life easier. No, I spend this money on things that really keep me alive.”
Another option is currently on the table in Washington. Several US Senators voted in September Workers’ Health Protection ActThis would allow workers unemployed or on leave due to the pandemic to gain access to subsidized COBRA coverage to keep their health insurance up.
Actors’ Equity supported this invoice. But it’s currently in limbo amid the COVID relief talks that have stalled in connection with the elections.
Despite being a Tony nominated actress, Kinnunen said uncertainty about the health care system caused her to leave the industry altogether. She is taking an online course at New York University to broaden her perspective.
But like so many in the industry, Kinnunen sees theater as a calling.
“We do it because we have a passion for it and it is important to us,” she said. “So to ask, just do something else? It’s not that easy. It hurts.”