Many employers view the rollout of the new federal health law as a headache.
But for the managers at television and film production companies, and many other entertainment industry employers, the arrival of the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is even worse.
That’s because the production companies run complicated, constantly mutating collages of companies that may employ a combination of a few true, “permanent,” full-time staffers, along with a combination of temps, freelancers and outside vendors.
Mark Goldstein, president of Entertainment Partners, a production support services company, estimated that about 80 percent of the workers involved with a typical big production may be members of union plans.
Even a small production may employ members of three or different union local plans. Big productions could employ members of plans run by as many as 30 different locals.
The other, non-union workers include some traditional, permanent, full-time employees at television networks and big film production and distribution companies. Those workers are often members of traditional non-union employee health plans.
The rest are non-union independent professionals who move from project to project and have to find their own benefits.
One of EntertainmentPartners’ major services has been helping the production teams keep track of the traditional, pre-PPACA health benefits programs.
Problems with earning and tracking benefits have also been a concern for entertainment industry worker organizations, Goldstein said.
When two major unions for actors — the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — merged in 2012, the health benefits trusts remained separate. Negotiators for the combined union said one goal was simply to find a way that actors who had earned some credit toward access to health insurance at SAG and some at AFTRA could combine that credit, so that the actors could use the combined credit to get health benefits from one of the trusts.
The Directors Guild has union status and is known for having generous, production-paid coverage.
By contrast, the Producers Guild has not been classified as a bona fide union, and has struggled to get comparable health benefits for its members. When the guild tried to run a voluntary plan for its members, it ran into antiselection problems that destabilized the plan, according to the Producers Guild.
When the PPACA employer mandate takes full effect, even tracking whether the union workers on one production are getting PPACA-compliant benefits will be a huge task for many productions, Goldstein said.
He said his company has been working on setting up a plan compliance verification program.
The company has also been working with Lockton, a benefits broker, and a unit of WellPoint to develop a health plan designed for workers who move from project to project many times a year.
“There is definitely pain going on right now,” Goldstein said. But he added that many of his clients support the general PPACA goal of expanding access to health coverage.