If implementation delays in the Affordable Care Act had to be categorized as a film genre for behind-the-scenes talent in Hollywood, “horror” might be an apt description. The same analogy can apply to the larger issue of finding and sustaining accessible and affordable health insurance for television and motion picture crews, who often struggle to work enough hours each year to qualify for pension, health and welfare benefits.

While an estimated 65% of these skilled workers receive group health care coverage through their respective guilds, including multi-employer funds, the rest do not have access to such benefits, nor are they unionized. And since many productions employ more than 100 crew members and are exempt from the ACA’s phased-in employer mandate or are not subject to collective bargaining agreements, an even steeper uphill battle is expected for this segment of the workforce.

But just like on TV or in the movies help is on the way. The operator of a private HIX platform for small and large employers has teamed up with a global leader in entertainment payroll, residuals and other integrated production management solutions to fill coverage gaps in an industry known more for who is appearing in front of the camera.

These key players include PlanSource – a cloud-based provider of benefits administration, exchange, payroll and HRIS solutions to employers – and Entertainment Partners, which serves 100,000 employees of major film studios such as Disney, Warner Brothers and Universal, as well as independent production companies.

PlanSource’s platform will be phased in for EP’s 17 offices in the U.S, Canada, London and Tokyo until all of its corporate client employees who work at least 30 hours a week are represented. In addition, Anthem Blue Cross has tailored a plan to the entertainment industry that’s described as a “transferable” and “advanced” solution to the ACA. One other noteworthy collaboration is with Lockton Companies, which advised EP in selecting a benefits administration platform.

Although non-union work is more of an exception than a rule across the entertainment industry, it is part of a growing trend largely reflected in the continued popularity of the reality TV show genre. “We’re still talking about massive numbers of potentially eligible employees,” observes Joe Scudiero, EP’s senior legal VP, estimating tens of thousands of workers are non-unionized.

As part of a defined contribution approach that emphasizes shared responsibility between employer and employee, EP’s monthly plan rates generally cost these production workers less than $300.

It also is “designed specifically to cater to the complexities to the onboarding and off-boarding attributes for the production worker environment,” he adds, noting how it’s common for these employees to work a few days, weeks or months on a variety of shows under the same production family but then experience work lulls.  

Two major studios are participating in the program, which went live on January 1, though Scudiero would not identify them.

“I would say overall, it’s worked out beyond our expectations,” he says, acknowledging that a few occasional technical hiccups have since been resolved. “Our goal is to get everything in order for what we perceive to be the big push for 2015 when all large employers will have to climb on board.”

Scott Carver, president and co-founder of PlanSource, believes the private HIX model is gaining considerable traction as a viable solution to a long-term problem among employers, including those that serve the entertainment industry.

His company’s platform provides what he calls “a sophisticated user experience” that enables health plan participants to make appropriate decisions based on cost, provider selection, expected usage and what others who fit their particular profile have selected.

“Most of our strategic software development resources are really targeted toward the consumer,” he explains, emphasizing the platform’s intuitive and personalized elements. “We see that as really the seminal issue for these exchanges going forward because a lot of the decision-making is now going to be transferred to the consumer, and they’ll be presented with a much broader portfolio of options that can be very confusing.”

Bruce Shutan is a Los Angeles freelance writer.

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