More than half of Americans get health insurance from their employers.  While this arrangement has issues, it’s relatively simple: You stay at your job, you get coverage. But staying covered is less simple for actors, artists, freelancers, and other workers without a steady day job.
Actors who are members of the Screen Actors Guild qualify for health insurance if they make $26,470 in eligible earnings in a year.  Any less, and they have to go without coverage the following year. Ellen Haun is $804 away from that scenario.
Haun, who you may have seen on “How to Get Away With Murder,” initially scrambled to book as many auditions she could, but she and her husband Dru Johnston, a writer and producer formerly of “The Chris Gethard Show,” came up with a novel way to make up the shortfall: Create a short film about Haun’s predicament, and pay her enough to act in it to reach SAG’s earnings threshold.
The couple is raising $29,600 on the crowdfunding platform Seed & Spark (they’ve raised $24,830 as of Monday) to fund “Ellen Needs Insurance,” a comedy about an actress named Ellen who is $804 away from qualifying for SAG health insurance. With the extra funds, hey’re hiring 15 actors who are in a similar situation, as well as a crew. They’ll also rent a studio, lighting, and other stuff you need to make a good-looking movie.
The project unveiled its cast on Monday. The actors’ credits include “A.P. Bio,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and “The Wire.”
“It’s kind of alarming the amount of talented people you can find who are like, ‘I’ve been a working actor for 20 years and I’m in this same situation,’” Johnston says.
While this is the closest Haun has come to going without insurance, Johnston lost his job, and his health insurance, in the period just before the Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplaces went live. He couldn’t afford coverage through COBRA, the expensive federal program allowing employees to stay on their employer coverage, so he bought bare-bones emergency coverage. Sure enough, he fell while jogging and broke his wrist. The only treatment he could afford was a brace and ibuprofen.
“It just means I’m going to have arthritis as an older man,” Johnston says.
The couple plans to shoot the film the first weekend in December and are aiming to post it in late winter or spring 2023. They’ll submit it to film festivals, but promised to use their own money, not donor funds, to pay for the submissions.
Beyond Haun’s need for insurance, the film illustrates the complicated and sometimes absurd things people in America must do to stay covered. At one point Haun’s character has to book a commercial for a cereal called “Sugar Shits.” While the film is a comedy, Haun and Johnston are aware of how serious the topic is. Haun says she knows many actors lose their insurance the year they have a baby because they can’t work enough.
“We don’t think this is a heartwarming story,” Johnston says. “We think this is a dystopian story that we are trying to put a positive spin on.”
Image: Photo Courtesy of Ellen Haun