A life in the creative world or in the arts has its rewards. Self-expression, yes. Creative satisfaction, hopefully. Financial rewards, hmm, maybe. Security and safety nets, well, not so much.
If you’re a SOCAN member, you probably wish you had the health insurance and other benefits that your “nine-to-five” friends can access through their employers. But there is an insurance plan that provides coverage for independent creative professionals. It’s the Arts & Entertainment Plan® offered through the Actra Fraternal Benefit Society (AFBS), and it’s available to SOCAN members.
It started when Canadian author and activist Susan Swan began talking to AFBS about setting up an affordable health care plan for the writing community. As a result, AFBS established The Writers’ Coalition Program in 2009, followed in 2011 by the Arts & Entertainment Plan – the first health insurance plans designed for self-employed artists in Canada.
Around since 1975, the AFBS is a member-owned and -governed, not-for-profit, federally incorporated insurance company that currently insures more than 17,000 self-employed people, and manages more than $625 million in member retirement assets.
Jason Saulay, the representative for the plan, explains that while their main business is insuring ACTRA and the Writers’ Guild, what they offer through the Arts and Entertainment Plan and the Writers’ Coalition Program is an insurance program for the artistic community as a whole, for organizations and people who otherwise don’t have access to such benefits and coverage.
“We’re not your typical insurance company,” Saulay says. “Although on the back end we operate similarly, we’re very different. Because we’re creatives ourselves, we understand the needs of others who earn their livelihood in the creative space. So when we design insurance programs, we do it with expertise, knowledge and compassion that can’t be matched by traditional insurers.” AFBS started offering the plan to SOCAN members about four years ago.
One of the main goals of the plan is to make getting insurance easy. “There’s no barriers to entry or anything like that,” says Saulay. “We have the simplest, easy-to-join plan you can possibly imagine. If you want to join up, it takes literally three minutes. You can join online, or get a quote in two steps. If you want to look around, compare plans, you have that option. When you want to actually enrol, you provide your personal details, what plan you want, how you’re going to pay, and you’re ready to go. It’s that simple. If you want to file a paper application, we have that option available as well.”
The plan offers flexible payment options. You can pay online monthly or annually by credit card, by cheque with a paper application, or by automatic bank account withdrawals each month.
“We offer health insurance, but we’re really artists helping artists.” – Jason Saulay of the Arts & Entertainment Plan offered by AFBS
The portability of the plan is also a key selling point. “With this program, it’s individual enrollment packaged up as group insurance,” Saulay explains. “So when you go to SOCAN or, say, if you work at some of these organizations, if that employee wants to leave, this insurance follows you. That’s very important for freelancers and self-employed people.”
The plan offers coverage for families and enrolment also has certain advantages come tax time. “If you file self-employed, you have tax advantages to joining the program,” Saulay says. “A significant portion of the premiums are a straight business expense and any unpaid portions of claims are also tax deductible.”
There are two options under the Arts & Entertainment Plan: a standard plan and a comprehensive plan (a more robust version of the standard one). While premiums will vary, Saulay says they’re very conscientious about the cost. “We know we’re dealing with artists, [we know] where the price points are, so they can’t scale too high from where they are. We actually offer the best guaranteed issue plan for the price available on the market, against any other plan in Canada.”
The Standard Plan premiums are $77 per month for those under 65 years old; for those over 65, the rate varies slightly per province, where there are “a couple of different minor premium jumps.” The Comprehensive Plan premiums range from $110 to $140 per month, depending on one’s age.
Saulay explains how some people come to the plan after having heard about it, while others who perhaps have never had employer-supplied insurance benefits contact them to inquire into what it’s all about. “Those people are tough because you’re dealing with people who say, ‘Okay, I’ve never had anything, now you want me to pay you every month, and then I may or may not use this plan?’ So then it’s [all about] getting into what you’re paying for; that’s a longer educational process,” he says. “Then you get others who had insurance already either from another job, or they’ve secured it through their spouses. They hear about it and they just come over.”
But Saulay says he and his team at AFBS are always there to help you through the process. “When you contact us, you tell us what you need, we explain what we have, we leave it in your court, answer any questions you have until you’re fully comfortable, and then we hope you come with us,” he says. “And in most cases people do.”
SOCAN member and freelance composer Wolfgang Webb had heard about the plan through friends who are ACTRA members. “I knew it was a non-profit insurance provider owned by other performers and writers,” says Webb. “Once I found out that SOCAN was providing this plan, I jumped at the chance,” he says. “I’ve never held a typical ‘day job’ or had an employer pay for my benefits. My medical premiums and expenses can often be written off as a business expense, and prescription drugs are reimbursed up to 70 per cent. My dental is 50 per cent up to $800, and increases to $1,250 during year three.”
Amanda Sadler is a singer-songwriter, and while she finds her work “unequivocally fulfilling” in many ways, she notes that the lack of insurance coverage is definitely a downside to her chosen profession. For her, the plan has helped to provide some stability in her music career, through access to affordable insurance benefits, which also gives her some financial wiggle room. “AFBS has allowed me to invest more money back into my music,” she says, “and has given me peace of mind to know that a trip to the dentist, or a prescription for new glasses, won’t be taking away from a songwriting trip or my next recording session.”
For singer-songwriter and film/TV composer Jon Mullane, there are also the advantages of the plan’s extended coverage. “One of the big benefits to me from this program is the travel insurance component,” says Mullane. “We travel a lot in this business, and it’s been great for me as I spend much of my time in the U.S. They also offer a phone consultation service where you can speak with experts on finance, legal, etc., which I’ve accessed a few times as well. It’s really excellent.”
Saulay boils it down the fact that the plan is exclusively designed for artists, by artists. “You’re getting something offered by people who completely understand you,” says Saulay. “We understand many of the concerns you may have, we know the benefits that are helpful to you, we have experience providing insurance to the artistic community. We offer health insurance, but we’re really artists helping artists.”
SOCAN members who want to learn more about the Arts & Entertainment Plan from AFBS can visit their website, or give them a call at 1-800-387-8897, Ext. 238.