As a longtime and proud supporter of the acting industry and thus of Actors Equity, I am writing this with a heavy heart. I have always known Actors Equity Association to be on the cutting edge of equality and at the forefront of making progressive choices with a focus on the needs of its members. Until now. Your recent decision to alter the health insurance plan for those working inconsistently was initially troubling and, upon a lengthy reflection, causes me to question whether AEA truly has its members best interests and needs at heart.
I am certain I do not have to remind you of the employment difficulties that non-white members face, as your own records indicate that only 15% of your members are non-white, though a review of several years appears to indicate that the number of non-white members is increasing. As most roles in theater are for white actors, those members most effected by this change are of minority races.
In addition, elder actors of all races struggle to be considered for work, with women being heavily prejudiced against earlier than men, leading to another specific group that work less, thus are more effected by this health insurance change.
Most important to me though is consideration for the AEA members who most utilize and need their health insurance; those who are HIV+, which has a statistically higher rate in racial minorities, women, and in gay/MSM population. This is also a population with higher rates of other autoimmune diseases, leading this alteration in health insurance to hit heaviest on those who are already struggling in this industry and with their own bodies, through no fault of their own. Without access to current physicians or to appropriate specialists, the new and limited insurance plan is likely to prevent those with medical struggles from being healed or managed as quickly and as well, forcing them to take more time away from working, thus being less likely to meet the requirements for the better insurance, creating a horrible cycle.
Lastly, though it is obvious that members want to work, this new health insurance plan does not cover a person outside of New York State, which will force an actor to choose between coverage and work, if offered a position for regional or other smaller roles. This choice brings undue stress upon a working environment or, worse, causes the talents of so many to remain stifled as work is refused in order to maintain access to healthcare.
Although I am not myself a member of Actors Equity, I am a member of the community as a patron and as a person who is lucky enough to count many of your members as my dearest friends. In that respect, anyone who loves, appreciates, and frequents events in which AEA members participate should be heard. We are a part of your theater community too. We buy your tickets, we travel to your shows, we plan our vacations based on your openings, and we celebrate the talents of your members. We too are committed to the arts and as such, I know I speak for many when I say that I am incredibly troubled by the current health care alterations. Although I certainly understand the need to be fiscally responsible, I encourage you to find a way to remain such while still being responsible to put the needs of your members first. We owe it to those who have dedicated their lives to this industry, we owe it to those who have spent 20+ years auditioning before their "big break," we owe it to those who have left their homes, families, and lives behind for tour contracts, and we owe it to those who have bled their souls into this industry, regardless of the prejudices and ailments they've faced while doing so.