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 should earn about $26,000 a 12 months on union initiatives to be eligible for union insurance coverage.

And Haun was about $800 brief.

When she couldn’t e book 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, known 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-about, 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

Be aware: “An Arm and a Leg” makes use of speech-recognition software program to generate transcripts, which can include errors. Please use the transcript as a software 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 bought a humorous, type 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 many individuals — time to get subsequent 12 months’s medical insurance found out, each on the Obamacare exchanges and at plenty 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 essentially the most inventive doable approach … by crowdfunding a inventive venture. They posted a video after all.

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 — appearing and writing — and people 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 wanting 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 just a little assist getting over the end line to qualify.

Dru: Additionally, which brings up the subsequent 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 more cash than our aim, we are going to use all of that solely

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

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

Dru: Yeah, this isn’t Shakespeare. It is a script we wrote. We’ll add elements.

Ellen: We will … 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 loads 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 will 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 elements 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 associates with the bride and Drew was associates 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 listing. So I used to be like, simply, I used to be like, why is that this man speaking to me a lot? He’s in all probability bought a girlfriend someplace.

Dru: Seems I didn’t. After which, uh, we ended up, uh, beginning to date virtually 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 function as a regulation pupil on “Learn how 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 % of SAG members don’t e book sufficient union work to qualify– it takes about 26 thousand {dollars} throughout a one-year interval. (And, you understand, after all most actors, Ellen included, choose up different work on the aspect, and even maintain down a day job.) For a lot of the previous couple of years, Ellen had no worries about making sufficient cash to qualify for insurance coverage. She’d been getting paid for a business that ran and ran, as a result of it was so terrific. You might have seen it. Even I’ve seen it … and I kinda by no means watch TV. Ellen performs BOTH elements in it. She’s name heart worker

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

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

Ellen as buyer: Sure.

Claire in Phoenix: Nice.

Ellen as buyer: Right.

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 stay.

Ellen as buyer: Wait, you’re actual?

Claire in Phoenix: Yeah! With Uncover Card, you’ll be able to speak to an actual particular person.

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

Ellen: And I type of knew at the back of my thoughts that like, okay, ultimately this holding charge goes to go away as a result of this business isn’t operating anymore.

Dan: After which final June, she bought 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 bought half the 12 months. Like that’s simply reserving like one different business.

Dan: However that wasn’t a positive factor. She’d executed 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 effectively.

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 positively going to be all the way down to the wire. In order that’s once I was like, you understand what, perhaps we should always take into consideration making a film about this.

Dan: Really, this was an concept that had type of been on Dru’s shelf for a number of years. As a comedy author for a TV speak present, Dru had gotten his insurance coverage from the screenwriter’s union, the WGA. After which in 2018 the present bought canceled. Fortunate for Drew, he was married to Ellen by then, so 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 understand what I ought to have executed is I ought to have simply made an online collection known as, “Dru Wants Insurance coverage.” After which I used to be like, effectively, it’s too late. I assume that’s an concept that I’m by no means going to should do. After which flash ahead.

Dan: They’re in the identical boat! once more.

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 newborn. We heard the heartbeat. We have been like, effectively, that we have been having the newborn. 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 type of going like, okay, our life’s gonna change.

We bought to make some, some decisions, or we bought 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: Really, it was going to expire precisely one month earlier than the newborn’s due date.

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

Dan: So 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 instantly.) 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 laborious 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 state of affairs: So long as no one interrupts you, a monologue is only one line. A job with 5 strains or much less will get known as an “under-five”

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

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

Dan: We now have 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 health care provider’s appointment.

Dr Receptionist: Has your insurance coverage modified?

Ellen: No, but it surely may quickly, so I wished to just remember to all would nonetheless take it.

Dr. Receptionist: Nicely, we take most insurances, so I’m positive we’ll be tremendous.

Ellen: Nice. Um, I used to be wanting 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 Good friend: 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 approach out, she tells the receptionist…

Ellen: My insurance coverage is just not going to alter. You’ll be able to depend on it. 

Dr. Receptionist: Um, okay.

Dan: After 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 best strategy 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 tools…

Ellen: You’ve bought to pay for meals to feed your solid and crew. And particularly, you understand, everyone seems to be type of working just a little bit beneath their price 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 number of weeks early.

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

Dan: Just some 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 just a little 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 people from getting lower off, and a brand new regulation in California lets staff who’re on strike get sponsored insurance coverage from the state’s Obamacare trade. In the meantime, Ellen managed to e book one other business — solely TV reveals and films have been focused by the strike, not adverts — so their household is ready for subsequent 12 months too. 

It’s a contented 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 associates about how laborious it’s gotten during the last a number of years to make a residing doing this.

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

Dan: That was virtually ten years in the past. However by some means getting constant work truly bought tougher over time. And that felt private.

Ellen: It was like feeling, like, emotionally, like there’s one thing mistaken with me that I’m not making the sum of money 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 occurring to all of us. It’s not simply occurring to me. It’s actually laborious.

Dan: However it’s not simply laborious 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 write 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 type 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 bought laid off. He’s discovered one other job, he’s figured it out, but it surely was that second the place I used to be like, oh, there’s no job that you may simply get and be like, now I’m set with medical insurance. In order that’s an extended reply to say, I don’t assume we’re leaving the leisure trade anytime quickly.

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

Dan: And like Dru mentioned: Fewer of us lately 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 type of safety, I’d actually by no means have began making this present. There could be no purpose to make it. However after all, 5 years in, I don’t count on 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 easy methods to choose the least-crappy medical insurance for you.

I’ve discovered rather a lot in 5 years. And we’re in a position to share what we’ve discovered 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 particular person! — 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 assist. That’s

We’ll be again in three weeks with half certainly one of a giant investigative story we’ve been engaged on … just about all 12 months. Speak about studying a ton. It’s been a wild experience. We’ve been ready to do this — and we’ll have the ability to share the outcomes with you– due to your assist, and I’m super-thankful. I’ll depart you with that deal with another time: arm and a leg present dot com, slash, assist. Thanks! I’ll catch you in three weeks. Until then, maintain 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 Periods.

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 referred to 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’ll be able to be taught extra about KFF Well being Information at:

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

Huge because of the Institute for Nonprofit Information for serving as our fiscal sponsor, permitting us to simply accept tax-exempt donations. You’ll be able to be taught extra about INN at

And now for certainly one of my favourite elements of the gig … giving a shout out to a number of the individuals who’ve come aboard to assist this present in the previous couple of weeks. Thanks at the moment 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 Street Productions.

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

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