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To Get Well being Insurance coverage, This Couple Made a Film

To Get Well being Insurance coverage, This Couple Made a Film


Final fall, Ellen Haun and Dru Johnston have been hustling to get their medical insurance sorted out for 2023. The Hollywood couple are members of SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors and writers. Members must earn about $26,000 a 12 months on union tasks to be eligible for union insurance coverage.

And Haun was about $800 brief.

When she couldn’t guide the gigs she wanted, Haun, with husband Johnston’s assist, got here up with a plan: to crowdfund sufficient cash to make their very own film starring Haun, referred to as “Ellen Wants Insurance coverage.”

On this episode of “An Arm and a Leg,” host Dan Weissmann speaks with Haun and Johnston about their brief movie, how they have been affected by the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, and their ongoing quest to remain insured.

Dan Weissmann


Host and producer of “An Arm and a Leg.” Beforehand, Dan was a workers reporter for Market and Chicago’s WBEZ. His work additionally seems on All Issues Thought of, Market, the BBC, 99 P.c Invisible, and Reveal, from the Middle for Investigative Reporting.


Emily Pisacreta

Adam Raymonda
Audio wizard

Ellen Weiss

Click on to open the Transcript

Transcript: To Get Well being Insurance coverage, This Couple Made a Film

Observe: “An Arm and a Leg” makes use of speech-recognition software program to generate transcripts, which can comprise errors. Please use the transcript as a instrument however examine the corresponding audio earlier than quoting the podcast.

Dan: Hey there. OK, right here’s one thing I by no means anticipated to say — I’ve obtained a humorous, form of candy story about medical insurance. OK, perhaps candy and bitter. Right here it’s …

As we file this, it’s November, which suggests it’s open enrollment for plenty of folks — time to get subsequent 12 months’s medical insurance found out, each on the Obamacare exchanges and at a number of workplaces. A 12 months in the past, Ellen Haun and her husband Dru Johnston have been HUSTLING to get their medical insurance arrange for 2023. In probably the most artistic doable manner … by crowdfunding a artistic challenge. They posted a video in fact.

Ellen: Hello, I’m Ellen, and I want medical insurance. 

Dru: And I’m Dru, and I additionally want medical insurance.

Dan: Ellen and Dru work in Hollywood — performing and writing — and folk in that trade get their insurance coverage by means of the unions. However provided that they’ve racked up sufficient wages for union work over a 12-month interval. They’d been on Ellen’s insurance coverage by means of the actors’ union, SAG. However final fall, as they defined of their crowdfunding video, that union insurance coverage wasn’t trying like a positive factor for the approaching 12 months.

Dru: Proper now, Ellen is $804 brief. So we’re making a brief movie. 

Ellen: And that brief movie known as “Ellen Wants Insurance coverage.”

Dan: The video outlined their plan: to make use of not simply Ellen however different actors who additionally wanted somewhat assist getting over the end line to qualify.

Dru: Additionally, which brings up the following level, are you an actor that’s near hitting your medical insurance? Then please get in contact.

Ellen: Sure, we need to solid you. We would like you to have insurance coverage.

Dru: And if we increase extra money than our objective, we’ll use all of that solely

in the direction of casting extra actors and getting them insurance coverage. 

Ellen: We’ll add components. We don’t care.

Dru: Yeah, this isn’t Shakespeare. This can be a script we wrote. We’ll add components.

Ellen: We are able to … We’ll make them up.

Dan: That was a 12 months in the past. And spoiler: They did make the movie. After all now they want insurance coverage for 2024. And Ellen’s union spent plenty of 2023 on strike, which has narrowed down the alternatives to earn that insurance coverage once more. So… I wished to speak with them!

[“An Arm and a Leg” theme music plays.]

That is “An Arm and a Leg” — a present about why well being care prices so freaking a lot, and what we are able to perhaps do about it. I’m Dan Weissmann. I’m a reporter, and I like a problem.

So the job we’ve picked right here is to take one of the enraging, terrifying, miserable components of American life, and convey you one thing entertaining, empowering and helpful.

[“An Arm and a Leg” theme music ends.]

Ellen and Dru met at a marriage.

Ellen: I used to be buddies with the bride and Drew was buddies with the groom. And on the bachelorette social gathering, Emily had been, like, speaking about all the one guys that have been going to be on the wedding ceremony, however she had forgot to incorporate Dru on that record. So I used to be like, simply, I used to be like, why is that this man speaking to me a lot? He’s most likely obtained a girlfriend someplace.

Dru: Seems I didn’t. After which, uh, we ended up, uh, beginning to date nearly instantly after that wedding ceremony.

Dan: By then, Ellen was incomes sufficient as an actor to qualify for medical insurance, beginning with an advert for Xfinity Web and a recurring position as a regulation scholar on “The right way to Get Away with Homicide.”

Viola Davis: Ms. Chapin, are you able to inform us what the Fifth Modification is?

Ellen: The Fifth Modification? Um, proper.

It, um, assures your proper to safety from self incrimination.

Viola Davis: Are you asking me?

Ellen: No, that’s my reply.

Viola Davis: And it’s an accurate one.

Dan: Getting that insurance coverage was a giant skilled milestone. Greater than 85 p.c of SAG members don’t guide sufficient union work to qualify– it takes about 26 thousand {dollars} throughout a one-year interval. (And, you recognize, in fact most actors, Ellen included, choose up different work on the aspect, and even maintain down a day job.) For many of the previous few years, Ellen had no worries about making sufficient cash to qualify for insurance coverage. She’d been getting paid for a industrial that ran and ran, as a result of it was so terrific. You’ll have seen it. Even I’ve seen it … and I kinda by no means watch TV. Ellen performs BOTH components in it. She’s name middle worker

Claire in Phoenix: That is Claire in Phoenix, can I enable you to? 

Dan: And he or she’s a girl who’s dialed in for buyer help. 

Ellen as buyer: Sure.

Claire in Phoenix: Nice.

Ellen as buyer: Appropriate.

Claire in Phoenix: Ma’am. This isn’t an automatic laptop.

Ellen as buyer: Operator?

Claire in Phoenix: Ma’am? I’m right here. I’m reside.

Ellen as buyer: Wait, you’re actual?

Claire in Phoenix: Yeah! With Uncover Card, you may discuss to an actual individual.

Dan: Ellen had been getting a “holding charge” — to maintain her from auditioning for commercials for rivals.

Ellen: And I form of knew at the back of my thoughts that like, okay, finally this holding charge goes to go away as a result of this industrial isn’t working anymore.

Dan: After which final June, she obtained the decision.

Ellen: My agent was like, Hey, they’re releasing you from the holds. Uh, you’re not getting that cost. You, um, you’re free to audition for different commercials.

And I used to be like, okay, however what about that medical insurance?

Dan: This was in June. She wanted to make one other 6 thousand {dollars}, by the top of December, to maintain her insurance coverage.

Ellen: And I believed, okay, I’ve obtained half the 12 months. Like that’s simply reserving like one different industrial.

Dan: However that wasn’t a positive factor. She’d accomplished it for years and years, however she wished to hedge her bets. She experimented with working as an additional.

Ellen: And I used to be getting like, fairly constant work, but in addition background work doesn’t pay very nicely.

Dan: $187 a day. Extra if there’s extra time, however nonetheless. It’s not that it’s not that a lot, particularly when you’re attempting to chip away at like a 6,000 stability.

I used to be like, I don’t know if I’m going to make this, um, I knew that it was undoubtedly going to be all the way down to the wire. In order that’s once I was like, you recognize what, perhaps we should always take into consideration making a film about this.

Dan: Truly, this was an concept that had form of been on Dru’s shelf for a couple of years. As a comedy author for a TV discuss present, Dru had gotten his insurance coverage from the screenwriter’s union, the WGA. After which in 2018 the present obtained canceled. Fortunate for Drew, he was married to Ellen by then, in order that they put him on her SAG insurance coverage. After which after that saga had ended, he had a enjoyable thought.

Dru: I used to be like, oh, you recognize what I ought to have accomplished is I ought to have simply made an internet collection referred to as, “Dru Wants Insurance coverage.” After which I used to be like, nicely, it’s too late. I suppose that’s an concept that I’m by no means going to must do. After which flash ahead.

Dan: They’re in the identical boat! another time.

Besides now, it’s Ellen who’s brief, and nothing to fall again on. I requested in the event that they remembered the day once they determined to attempt making the movie. Dru was like, …

Dru: It was within the OBGYN’s workplace.

Dan: Yeah. They have been pregnant! This was the primary physician go to.

Dru: We had gone to the ultrasound. We noticed the child. We heard the heartbeat. We have been like, nicely, that we have been having the child. It’s coming.

Dan: Now they have been gonna see the physician, speak about subsequent steps.

Dru: And we had about 20 minutes in that ready room, simply sitting there form of going like, okay, our life’s gonna change.

We obtained to make some, some decisions, or we obtained to, like, work out, like, what room are we going to make use of? All that stuff. But additionally in the midst of that, we have been like, oh, additionally our medical insurance goes … is ready to expire.

Dan: Truly, it was going to expire precisely one month earlier than the child’s due date.

Dru: And I used to be like, nicely, shit, we want that medical insurance. Um, and, and that’s when Ellen mentioned, I feel I must make a film and we have to try this.

Dan: In order that they did! They banged out a script — and introduced a good friend’s manufacturing firm on board. (The union doesn’t allow you to simply pay your self immediately.) Which brings us to the purpose within the story once they made that crowdfunding video

[Bouncy music plays in the background.]

Dru: It’s a comedy about an actress named Ellen, and the issues she does to get insurance coverage.

Ellen: Issues like begging my agent for a job, praying to the gods for a shock residual examine, and even background work.

Additionally, the film’s nearly how exhausting it’s to navigate insurance coverage on this nation.

[Bouncy music ends.

Dan: How’d it come out? That’s next.

This episode of “An Arm and a Leg” is produced in partnership with KFF Health News. That’s a nonprofit newsroom covering health care in America. Their journalism is terrific– wins all kinds of awards every year– and I’m honored to work with them.

Dan: So, Ellen and Dru did raise the money: more than 33 thousand dollars. They actually did beat their goal. The movie is delightfully meta. It starts with Ellen-the-character in her kitchen in the middle of a conversation with her best friend …

Best Friend: Why can’t you just pay the difference?

Ellen: Oh yeah, I tried. But I called and they told me that’s not allowed.

Best Friend: I thought that was the whole thing about health insurance in this country. You have to pay for it.

Ellen: Apparently, not when you want to. If I want to keep my health insurance, I have to book another SAG job by the end of the year.

Best Friend: Couldn’t you cast yourself in something?

Ellen: Like in what, my own movie? Yeah. I mean, I’d have to get funding,

write a script, hire a production team, get a payroll company, …

Dan: So just like the real Ellen did, movie-Ellen decides to go all out to book another commercial. And if you ever thought it might be fun to take a crack at a career in acting, the audition scene — with Ellen and a casting director — that might dissuade you.

Casting director: Alright, we’ll start on action and, uh, remember, this determines whether or not you can see a doctor in the next year.

Dan: Soon, we see Ellen looking up COBRA — which you may have looked up yourself, like if you ever left a job without your next gig — and your next insurance — lined up.

COBRA pitch: Losing your health insurance?

Don’t worry. It happens all the time. Cobra is here for you. …

Dan: And if you’ve looked at it, you know: COBRA is EXPENSIVE. Like, average employer coverage for a family costs more than 20 thousand dollars a year. So that’s the price range for COBRA.

COBRA pitch: The fact that it’s named after a deadly and venomous snake is just part of the fun, and has nothing to do with the fact that it feels like death. You made less money, and now you have to pay more.

Dan: On her agent’s advice, Ellen tries background work, another case of art imitating life. And, in a scene that really highlights some of the peculiarities about how all of this works,  she debriefs with her friend, over drinks at a bar.

Best Friend: How is it?

Ellen: It’s not as bad as I thought, but it does not pay very well. You get a

lot more if you have a line.

Dan: And suddenly, another patron in the bar leans into the conversation… Bar patron: Excuse me, did you say you get more money if you have a line?

Ellen: Yeah.

Bar patron: Got it.

Dan: And another patron. Bar patron: Just one line?

Ellen: Yeah.

You get more if you have more than five lines, too.

Bar patron: Wow. Wow.

Dan:Now it’s everybody in the bar.

Bar patrons: Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Dan: The bit about a pay bump is real, of course. Including the bump for more-than-five-lines. And just to expand on that for a minute here – Dru experienced the downside of that rule — ridiculously, painfully — when he did a one-shot appearance on Orange Is the New Black. It was a big meaty scene, but somehow wasn’t more than five lines.

Dru: I was a lawyer and every line was about a half of a page of just legalese

Dru as Lawyer: based on copious witness testimony, the U. S. attorney has charged you and four others

[DUCKS UNDER: with inciting the riot. They allege that you created and maintained a secret riot bunker, and there’s also evidence that directly implicates you in the kidnapping and false imprisonment of Officer Desmond Piscatella…]

Dan: However that’s how a “line” will get outlined on this scenario: So long as no one interrupts you, a monologue is only one line. A task with 5 traces or much less will get referred to as an “under-five”

Dru: And I used to be like, that is an below 5? I used to be like, okay, nicely, there we go. I’ll simply lecture for 2 pages.

Dru as Lawyer: I’ve negotiated a plea deal for you. In case you admit to the riot costs, they’re prepared to drop every part else. This is excellent.

Dan: We’ve nonetheless not gotten to the top of Dru’s first line on this scene Dru as Lawyer: It’ll garner you the shortest doable sentence.

Dru as Lawyer: Do you perceive?

Dan: Again within the movie, the Ellen character remains to be freaking out when she reveals up for a physician’s appointment.

Dr Receptionist: Has your insurance coverage modified?

Ellen: No, however it may quickly, so I wished to just be sure you all would nonetheless take it.

Dr. Receptionist: Effectively, we take most insurances, so I’m positive we’ll be high quality.

Ellen: Nice. Um, I used to be trying on the California Insurance coverage Alternate. Dr Receptionist: Uh, no.

Ellen: Excuse me?

Dr. Receptionist: No, we, we don’t take that.

Dan: And within the physician’s workplace– in one other echo of Ellen and Dru’s story– Ellen-the-character will get an ultrasound.

Ellen: Congratulations.

Dan: And he or she flashes again to the primary scene, together with her good friend…

Greatest Buddy: Couldn’t you solid your self in one thing?

Ellen: Like in what? My very own film? (echos) My very own film?

Dan: And naturally, that’s the place she decides. She’s gonna do that. On her manner out, she tells the receptionist…

Ellen: My insurance coverage isn’t going to alter. You may rely on it. 

Dr. Receptionist: Um, okay.

Dan: Once I noticed the film, I didn’t know that Ellen Haun had been pregnant once they made it.

Dru: We by no means introduced it up in crowdfunding. However then after we have been making the film, we have been like, let’s simply use actual life. Not solely was it actual, it felt like the simplest solution to clarify it.

Dan: They shot the film over three days in December 2022. Making this movie on $33,000 and alter was a feat by itself. They paid 15 actors, and a crew. There was a location to hire, and gear…

Ellen: You’ve obtained to pay for meals to feed your solid and crew. And particularly, you recognize, everyone seems to be form of working somewhat bit below their fee so that you need to purchase them good meals.

Dan: You’ve heard a number of the outcomes. I received’t spoil the remainder. It’s a very-enjoyable 13 minutes. We’ll have a hyperlink wherever you’re listening to this. With the film wrapped by New Years, Ellen certified for her insurance coverage, so she was on it when their child Bruce was born a couple of weeks early.

Ellen: We spent three weeks within the NICU and the whole time that we have been within the hospital with him, we simply stored saying, I’m so glad now we have insurance coverage. I’m so glad now we have insurance coverage. I’m so glad now we have insurance coverage.

Dan: Only a few weeks after Bruce was born, Dru’s union– the Author’s Guild– went on strike. Then Ellen’s union went on strike too.

Ellen: We took Bruce to his very first picket when he was like two months outdated. And I’ve been going, like, about, as soon as every week to, to picket with him. So all people is aware of him at 

the Disney Picket location. He’s somewhat union child.

Dru: We are saying the joke, he went straight from labor to labor motion.

Dan: No joke, although: the SAG strike meant there was much less work for actors in 2023– fewer probabilities to earn cash and qualify for insurance coverage. The well being plan prolonged a grace interval to maintain of us from getting reduce off, and a brand new regulation in California lets employees who’re on strike get sponsored insurance coverage from the state’s Obamacare trade. In the meantime, Ellen managed to guide one other industrial — solely TV reveals and flicks have been focused by the strike, not adverts — so their household is ready for subsequent 12 months too. 

It’s a cheerful ending … for now. 

However this looks as if an exhausting merry-go-round to remain on for the remainder of your life. I requested Ellen and Dru how they felt about it.

Ellen: So one thing that has been good in regards to the strike has been speaking to a bunch of our buddies about how exhausting it’s gotten over the past a number of years to make a residing doing this.

I used to be like in my late twenties once I obtained the SAG medical insurance for the primary time. I believed, like, “Nice.” Like, “that is it.”

Dan: That was nearly ten years in the past. However someway getting constant work truly obtained tougher over time. And that felt private.

Ellen: It was like feeling, like, emotionally, like there’s one thing fallacious with me that I’m not making the amount of cash that I made earlier in my profession. And so, actually, that has been a pleasant a part of the strike has been realizing that, hey, that is taking place to all of us. It’s not simply taking place to me. It’s actually exhausting.

Dan: But it surely’s not simply exhausting for actors and writers.

Dru: My brother works in tech. Proper. And like, I feel the character of employment, throughout many industries has modified. And like, there isn’t actually that very same job safety that there was when, like, my mother and father have been developing.

Dan: Dru thinks again to the time, years in the past, when he first give up his day job, to jot down and carry out full-time. It was contact and go at first. Like, week to week, it might really feel precarious.

Dru: I had a form of a down week and I used to be like, perhaps it’s time to get an actual day job like my brother. And proper that week, he obtained laid off. He’s discovered one other job, he’s figured it out, however it was that second the place I used to be like, oh, there’s no job that you would be able to simply get and be like, now I’m set with medical insurance. In order that’s a protracted reply to say, I don’t assume we’re leaving the leisure trade anytime quickly.

Ellen: Yeah, we’ve form of put all of our chips on the desk.

Dan: And like Dru mentioned: Fewer of us as of late have jobs the place we don’t have to fret about the place our medical insurance is coming from, or if it’s gonna be any good. I imply, if extra of us had that form of safety, I might actually by no means have began making this present. There can be no cause to make it. However in fact, 5 years in, I don’t anticipate to expire of fabric.

As we publish this episode, we’ve additionally simply put out an installment of our First Help Equipment publication, this one sums up and updates all our greatest recommendation about the best way to choose the least-crappy medical insurance for you.

I’ve realized rather a lot in 5 years. And we’re capable of share what we’ve realized since you’ve been supporting us. And when you can, that is the very best second to pitch in, as a result of proper now, each greenback you give — as much as a thousand {dollars} per individual! — get matched. Due to NewsMatch from the Institute for Nonprofit Information, each greenback you give us counts for double. The place to go is arm and a leg present, dot com, slash help. That’s https://armandalegshow.com/help/.

We’ll be again in three weeks with half one in all a giant investigative story we’ve been engaged on … just about all 12 months. Discuss studying a ton. It’s been a wild trip. We’ve been in a position to do this — and we’ll be capable of share the outcomes with you– due to your help, and I’m super-thankful. I’ll go away you with that tackle another time: arm and a leg present dot com, slash, help. Thanks! I’ll catch you in three weeks. Until then, deal with your self.

This episode of “An Arm and a Leg” was produced by Emily Pisacreta and me, Dan Weissman and edited by Ellen Weiss.

Daisy Rosario is our consulting managing producer. 

Adam Raymonda is our audio wizard. 

Our music is by Dave Winer and Blue Dot Classes.

Gabrielle Healy is our managing editor for viewers. She edits the First Help Equipment E-newsletter.

Bea Bosco is our consulting director of operations. 

Sarah Ballema is our operations supervisor.

“An Arm and a Leg” is produced in partnership with KFF Well being Information — previously generally known as Kaiser Well being Information. That’s a nationwide newsroom producing in-depth journalism about healthcare in America, and a core program at KFF — an unbiased supply of well being coverage analysis, polling, and journalism. You may study extra about KFF Well being Information at: https://armandalegshow.com/about-x/partners-and-supporters/kaiserhealthnews/

Zach Dyer is senior audio producer at KFF Well being Information. He’s editorial liaison to this present.

Massive because of the Institute for Nonprofit Information for serving as our fiscal sponsor, permitting us to just accept tax-exempt donations. You may study extra about INN at INN.org

And now for one in all my favourite components of the gig … giving a shout out to a number of the individuals who’ve come aboard to help this present in the previous few weeks. Thanks right now to our supporters (Dan lists donors.) Thanks a lot! 

“An Arm and a Leg” is a co-production of KFF Well being Information and Public Highway Productions.

To communicate with “An Arm and a Leg,” subscribe to the publication. You can even comply with the present on Fb and X, previously generally known as Twitter. And when you’ve obtained tales to inform in regards to the well being care system, the producers would love to listen to from you.

To listen to all KFF Well being Information podcasts, click on right here.

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