Letter From the National Benefit Fund

Posted by Eric Falkner | Nov 28th, 2013 | Tags: Union, Community, Healthcare, Affordable Care Act

Dear IATSE National Health and Welfare Fund participating Local Union: Recently your members, as well as your office, have received many notices from the IATSE National Benefit Funds. There is a lot more information on its way via our year-end newsletter which includes important information about the Pension, Annuity and Vacation Funds. You will also be receiving an important notice shortly about improvements to the Mental Health Benefit provided by the National Health & Welfare Fund. So far we’ve told you about a number of changes in Health and Welfare Fund Plan C, including CAPP rate changes for April 1, 2014, DOMA, and changes to the Medical Reimbursement Program (“MRP”), as required by the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). We have also advised you of significant pension benefit increases for retirees and active participants in the Pension Fund, The notice on the changes to the Health Fund’s stand-alone MRP Plan, which are required by the ACA, has generated numerous inquiries from many of our Locals and many of our participants. Since there seems to be a broad-based need for clarification on many ACA topics and their application to the National Health & Welfare Fund, I have prepared the following FAQs. I hope you will find them useful in guiding your members, your office staff, and yourself. I have compiled these particular FAQs based on the questions we are being asked most often.

  • What is the definition of a “group health plan” as defined by ACA?
    In order to qualify to enroll in a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA), which is what the National Health and Welfare Fund’s MRP is, you must have primary health coverage that is a group plan sponsored by an employer (that is, obtained through employment) or sponsored by a union. Your primary health coverage cannot be “individual” coverage for this purpose.
  • What is the definition of individual coverage?
    Individual coverage is coverage that you purchase on your own (whether directly from an insurance carrier, such as Cigna, Aetna, United, BlueCross or BlueShield, or through a state insurance Marketplace (previously called the “Exchange” such as in the state of Massachusetts) or that you obtain through a government program such as Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration, National Programs (such as the U.K.) etc.
  • Why can I no longer use my individual coverage as the basis for enrollment in the stand-alone MRP Plan?
    Guidance was issued by the government on September 13, 2013 which dictated that, in order for someone to enroll in an HRA (like the MRP Plan), they must be actually enrolled in an employer/union sponsored group health plan. The National Health & Welfare Fund must comply with this legal requirement.
  • What happens if I do not provide the Fund Office with proof of other employer/union sponsored group health coverage and the required certification by the open enrollment deadline of December 16, 2013?
    If you fail to timely submit the required proof of other employer/union sponsored group health coverage along with the completed and signed certification that such other coverage provides “minimum value” (as defined by the ACA), you will be defaulted into Plan C-2 or C-3 single coverage if your CAPP account balance is sufficient to cover the entire cost of such coverage for one quarter. If you were enrolled in the MRP as a stand-alone option in 2013 and wish to waive your CAPP balance entirely so that you may be eligible for a government subsidy if you buy coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace, you may request a waiver form from the Fund Office or download it on our website at iatsenbf.org.
    If your CAPP account balance is not sufficient to cover the cost of at least one quarter of C-3 single coverage (and the current $150 administrative fee), your coverage from the Fund will lapse. Once your coverage lapses, you will not be offered Plan C coverage again until you have enough in your CAPP account to cover the cost of at least one month of C-3 single coverage (and you may at that time opt for that coverage or co-pay for more expensive coverage). You will not be automatically defaulted into Plan C coverage until your account is sufficient to cover at least the cost of one quarter of C-2 single coverage (and the current $150 administrative fee). If a member qualifies for coverage through the National Health & Welfare Fund, can they still obtain coverage through the Marketplace? As far as we understand, there is no prohibition on purchasing coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace even if a person has other health coverage. However, if you have coverage under the Fund (or an offer to opt into coverage), you may be disqualified from receiving a federal subsidy for coverage purchased through the Marketplace.
  • Does coverage obtained through the Marketplace qualify as valid group coverage in order to enroll in the stand-alone MRP Plan?
    No. In order to enroll in the stand-alone MRP Plan, your other coverage must be employer or union sponsored group health coverage.
  • Is coverage through Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veteran’s Administration acceptable as “other group health coverage” pursuant to ACA requirements?
    No. These are not employer/union sponsored plans and are therefore not considered acceptable other coverage for enrollment in the Fund’s MRP stand-alone option pursuant to ACA guidance.
  • What if I am currently enrolled in Medicare? How am I affected?
    The National Health & Welfare Fund recently sent you a notice advising that the Board of Trustees has created a separate MRP Plan designed solely for retired Plan Participants who are on Medicare. It is called the Retiree-Only Medical Reimbursement Program (“MRP”) Plan. As of January 1, 2014, a Medicare enrollee’s Plan C CAPP account balance (with employer contributions received through October 31, 2013) will be converted to a Retiree-Only MRP account, unless the individual (i) is deemed active by current Plan rules at January 1, 2014, (ii) timely enrolls in active coverage (Plan C-1, C-2 or C-3), or (iii) timely submits an election form requesting that his or her Plan C CAPP account balance stay in the Active Plan for purposes of obtaining such coverage in the future, in addition to his or her Medicare coverage.
  • Is the MPIPHP coverage considered group health coverage?
    Yes. Any group health plan coverage obtained through your employment or employment of your spouse or partner is acceptable “other group health coverage” for purposes of enrollment in the stand-alone MRP Plan, provided that you submit the required proof of other coverage and certify that the other coverage meets the ACA’s minimum value standard. You can check with your Plan Sponsor (typically your employer) or the insurance carrier whether the other coverage meets the minimum value standard. All benefit funds and insurance companies are required to issue SBCs (Summary of Benefits and Coverage) that indicate whether the plan of benefits meets the minimum value standard pursuant to the ACA’s requirements. The SBC will indicate that at the top of the form.
  • What do I need to provide to the National Health & Welfare Fund in order to continue to enroll in, or elect to enroll in, the MRP Plan option for this year’s open enrollment?
    You must send a front and back copy of your other insurance / coverage identification card along with the checked box and signed certification form that will be on your year- end statement or enrollment form. Your identification card must state that it is a group plan or have a group identification number on it (with the word “group” prominently displayed) or you must obtain a letter from your plan sponsor (typically, employer) or the insurance carrier stating that you are enrolled in an employer/union sponsored group health plan.
  • If coverage is cheaper on the Marketplace, can I waive my current coverage and purchase coverage on the Marketplace?
    You may not waive coverage under the Fund’s Plan C-1, C-2, or C-3 options. You may only waive an MRP balance if you are enrolled in the MRP Plan on a stand-alone basis. The only advantage to waiving an MRP balance is that this may allow you to qualify for a federal subsidy for coverage purchased through the Marketplace. We cannot offer guidance on this issue, since the subsidy is based on total household income, which is information that this Fund does not have.
  • If I incurred claims during 2013 for which I want reimbursement in 2014 do I have to be enrolled in the MRP option in 2014 to make a claim?
    Yes, you must be enrolled in the active stand-alone MRP option at the time of the claim submission. If you are covered under Plans C-1, C-2, or C-3 in 2014 and have excess funds in your CAPP account available for reimbursement, then you can submit for reimbursement any claims incurred during 2013 as long as they are postmarked by March 31, 2014. As of January 1, 2014, in accordance with ACA requirements, the following expenses are NOT eligible for reimbursement under the MRP: individual health coverage premiums, as well as amounts to cover deductibles, co-insurance or excluded items as determined by an INDIVIDUAL health insurance plan that you may have had in 2013.
  • If I was enrolled in the stand-alone active MRP Plan through December 31, 2013 but are not enrolled in that option for January 1, 2014 do I still have until March 31, 2014 to submit my 2013 incurred claims for reimbursement?
    No. Under the Plan rules, the claim for reimbursement must have been incurred while you were enrolled in the MRP Plan and must be submitted at a time while you are still enrolled in the MRP Plan. In addition, as explained above, as of January 1, 2014, the ACA prohibits HRAs (like the MRP Plan) from reimbursing individual health plan premiums [or any cost-sharing under such an individual plan (deductibles, co-payments, etc.). Your 2013 claims must be postmarked before the end of 2013 in order for them to be eligible for reimbursement.
  • What happens if I have a loss of coverage during the year?
    If you lose coverage under Plans A, C-1, C-2,or C-3, you will be offered COBRA(self-pay continuation coverage). You have the right to purchase COBRA continuation coverage through the National Health & Welfare Fund until you re-qualify for coverage through employer contributions. Instead of electing and paying for COBRA coverage, you may wish to obtain coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. With either COBRA or Marketplace coverage, you should avoid a tax penalty for being uninsured.
  • How long can I be without coverage before a tax penalty for being uninsured is imposed
    As long as your period of being uninsured is less than three (3) months and only occurs once in a calendar year then the IRS will not impose a penalty on you. Since the Health Fund’s coverage runs in quarters, a loss of coverage will be equal to, and in some cases greater than, three months. Therefore, to avoid a tax penalty you should exercise your right to obtain coverage through COBRA (by making a timely election and payment) or purchase coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
  • What does minimum value mean?
    In general, the ACA’s minimum value requirement means that your group health coverage must cover at least 60% of plan costs. What does "affordable" mean?
    Affordable means that any payment you make for your individual coverage only (excluding any cost to cover your dependents) cannot exceed 9.5% of your total household income. Since the Fund does not maintain information about your total income or that of your entire household we would be unable to guide you as to whether or not coverage through one of our Plan options or that of another group fits the government’s definition of affordable.

 

Sincerely, Anne J. Zeisler Executive Director November 13, 2013

 

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The Bridge

Posted by John James | Feb 1st, 2013 | Tags:

The Bridge

By John James

I was asked to write down the story I told during my last meeting of Local 748 concerning my feelings about the union and its future.

The union reminds me of a story I heard somewhere many years ago - it had to do with the settlers coming west by wagon train.  They knew the journey would be hard and dangerous - and they had heard stories of the gigantic obstacles the Western frontier had in store for them.

One day, they arrived at a river found at the bottom of the largest canyon anyone in the wagon team had ever seen.  It may have been a place like Lee’s Ferry in the Northern Arizona - Utah Border.

The settlers looked at the canyon and the raging river at the bottom and started making their plan for how they were going to cross the chasm.  Over the next few weeks the settlers worked tirelessly to lower their wagons and livestock down to a small beach at the bottom of the canyon.  Others built and chiseled a rudimentary road into the canyon wall so they could move the larger items to the beach.

Then they started crossing the water of the river, moving live stock and property one by one to the other side.  They used ropes and other equipment a brave man swam across to help get their property to the other side.  They started building a road leading up the other side of the canyon, but to call it a road, or to think of it in any way like a modern road would be wrong.  At best - it was a trail.

The settlers lost much live stock to the raging waters of the river.  Supplies and wagons were washed down as well.  It was a long and expensive effort.

Finally, all but one of the settlers had made the crossing.  That one settler said “no” to the many kind offers to help him move his property across the water.  He was a carpenter, and instead he would stay and build a bridge to span the raging flume of the rivers wrath.  No amount of convincing would sway him from this task.  His wagon train left him alone the next day.  

It took 2 years.  By himself he lowered wood to the river, hammered and sawed and fashioned a good and sturdy bridge that safely crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon.   It was no work of art - in fact it was down right ugly -  but it was solid and built to last for a very long time.

Just as he was finishing his work, and loading up the last of his tools and preparing to cross his bridge at the bottom of the canyon, a new wagon train appeared at the top of the abyss.  They were shocked at what they saw.

Not only had the man built a bridge - but he built a wider, safer trail to the bottom - large enough for one wagon and a team of mules to navigate.  And then there was the bridge at the bottom, heavy, strong and stalwart before the raging waters.  And on the other side, a new trail with logs built into the road surface to protect against sliding back down the hill.  It was a miracle to the settlers because no one in the wagon train knew this existed.  They were ready to do the same thing as the last train did two years before - fight and bleed and loose property as the cost of crossing this natural wonder.

When the settlers asked the man who had built this wonder - he told them the story of how he came to be there and how he built the bridge over two years of hard work and labor single handedly.  The settlers could not believe what they heard.

Why?  Why spend all that time and effort building a bridge that he would use only once?  Why?

His answer was this - Now I can cross safely with no loss of property or live stock.  And those who come after me can share the gift of safety as well.  I built this for those who come later.  Others have done the same thing for me, the people who found this trail to California and who helped forge the way, they did it for those who follow and for their needs.  They left behind a place that is better and safer than those who came before.  I pay homage to those who left behind something better than what they found. I benefited from their foresight, so I was obligated to do the same.

And with that, he crossed his bridge and made his way out of the canyon that was his home for two years.  He did it with dignity and integrity, and left behind something he could truly be proud of.

Imagine how he felt.  

And of course - this story is a fabrication - but the moral is not.

I imagine the Union is a lot like that bridge, something that will help those that come after us for many years to come, making the path safer and better for all who come this way.  The union is not a thing.  It is people, members, who call it their own - they are the ones who build something that will last after they have come this way.  And as my experience as President of 748 has shown, we are a civilized and sensitive union.  This unique organization is flexible and has a heart to those who are on the path and may not understand what the union is all about. Freelancer and management.

The man who built the bridge taught a powerful lesson to the settlers who came after him.  Just like we, as members of the Local, need to be the representatives, diplomats and educators to those who do not understand what the Union really is.  We must guard our Union from those who would want to use it for their own gain and not for the common good of the entire membership. 

In my case - it took me many years of trial and error to learn what the union was and how important it is to our community of broadcast professionals.  It is important to our community, our realm, everyday. A bridge worth protecting and maintaining.

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Success With a Side of Mistakes

Posted by E-Board | Dec 28th, 2012 | Tags:

Success with a side of mistakes

We at local 748 have taken a breather over the Holiday to enjoy our families and friends and now it is back to work. Our first order of business is an official statement regarding the recent Pac 12 action. We received many good questions and we decided to meet with our local lawyer to get clarity.

Firstly, we'd like to share some of the incredible stories that came out of the action. We had amazing solidarity throughout all the regions which eventually lead to the action being resolved in 10 days with the Pac 12 agreeing to talk with IATSE to develop a long term working relationship. In California we had a director and producer turn in their credentials and picket. We had an electrician refuse to hook up power and when the Pac 12 tried to get a generator, the first delivery was stopped because the driver refused to cross a picket line. We had 2 board shows refuse to supply video feeds to the Pac 12 broadcasts. There were many more stories of solidarity that brought this action to swift and successful close.

Unfortunately, as with all fast moving situations, things get missed and mistakes get made. The current e-board has prided itself on being up front and honest about our mistakes and is taking steps to ensure they're never made again. Our first step was to meet with our lawyer yesterday and get a full understanding of the definition of Strikes and Picketing and which laws apply when a union engages in strike and picketing activity. Our next step was to accelerate the launching of our new website and social media platforms. We had originally planned to launch our website and Facebook pages in early January. When it became clear the word was not getting out fast enough, Eric spent a sleepless night getting the site finished and launching the Facebook page. We sent out numerous emails and spread our social media platforms in an effort to speed up communication and make it as accessible as possible. We will be the first to admit this was our first action as an e-board and we made mistakes. We did our best to spread what information we had and we have learned a lot that future e-boards will benefit from.

We have received many questions during and after the action so let us conclude by answering the most common questions.

Q: What was this action?
A: This action was a strike and a picket line. A strike is a refusal to work by employees and/or a union against an employer. A picket line is a means by which a message can be sent. It can advise employees that there is a strike in progress in an effort to tell other employees to refuse to work for that employer. It serves to notify the public of what is happening in the hope that potential customers or others will cease doing business with the employer due to the strike. It can be used to notify the public that an employer is not treating its employees in a fair manner. In our case, the International declared Pac 12 an unfair employer so our picket line was to inform the public of this declaration. There was confusion by the e-board on the type of action and we mistakenly said it wasn't a strike when in fact it was. We were on strike against Pac 12 Enterprises. We were also picketing to let the public, along with our members and all employees, know of our problems with the Pac 12 Enterprises.

Q: Why were we on strike?
A: We were on strike because Pac 12 was declared an unfair employer because they were not paying area standard wages in all markets. In the case of Arizona, they were directly hiring employees for certain CBA covered positions, which means they were not honoring the entire CBA we have with the local employer (crewer) resulting in lost work opportunities for the employees who we represent.

Q: How was this strike legal?
A: The following was declared by International President Loeb on Dec 7: "After consideration of the inherent danger with this employer paying less than area standards wages and benefits for employees working in the Sports Broadcast industry, and in accordance with Article Seven, Section 10 of the International Constitution, I am hereby declaring Pac 12 Network/Pac 12 Enterprises, Inc., as being unfair and order you to refrain from rendering any service to this employer." This declaration by the International was consistent with the law and, therefore, it was a legally sanctioned action. A union is not limited to striking an employer with which it has a contract as suggested by one question. In fact, it generally cannot engage in such action as it would violate the “no-strike” provision of the agreement. It is perfectly lawful for a union to picket an employer with which it has a dispute whether or not it represents the employees of that employer. There are different rules applicable to the picketing, depending on a wide range of fact situations. Our strike action and picketing fully complied with all of the requirements of the law.

Q: How can we strike against our local crewers?
A: The strike was against Pac 12 Enterprises. Because our local crewers were engaging in hiring for Pac 12, they became “allied” Pac 12. As part of the strike against Pac 12, we set up an informational picket at the job sites. Section 8 of the CBA's with our local employers states "It shall be understood by and between both parties to this Agreement that a lawful IATSE picket line, sanctioned by the International President, shall not constitute a cause for discipline as defined by this Agreement." This gives protection to the employees to honor the sanctioned picket line.

Q: Why wasn't I told the strike was going to occur?
A: We informed membership the Tuesday before the action it would occur and we made every effort to inform everyone on the ASU crew the morning of its occurrence. We were under no obligation to tell anyone of the action. One of the benefits of membership and attending meetings is getting information ahead of time. There were also people supplying information to the Pac 12 and as we didn't know who/where these individuals were, we were instructed to not tell people until the last minute to ensure maximum effect of the action.

Q: Why was communication so lacking?
A: We had a Twitter account set up and as soon as we had information, we sent it out. Part of the challenge of this is we were also running a picket line and on the phone constantly to get instruction. After the first day, we realized we needed better communication so we set up a Facebook page and new website and sent a mass email through our email system to all freelancers announcing the launching of these new avenues and many people took advantage. If you did not receive our mass email or updates, please send us your most current address at businessagent@iatse748.com. Also, we have an 888 number set up which is always posted on Iatse748.com.

In closing, we are so proud of the support received in Phoenix and Tucson. We were humbled by your support and thrilled this action was resolved so quickly. The solid show of support by the members of this Local helped send a strong message to Pac 12 officials which has resulted in the initiation of negotiations.

Your Local E-Board

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