Thursday, June 18, 2015

Low Information

I received a phone call this morning from a member who was very upset that he had lost his Motion Picture Industry Health Coverage. He explained that he did a lot of freelance work, and suspected that the studios had under-reported his hours. But he didn't know for sure. He said that he had a sick wife who needed expensive medication and that he couldn't afford to pay the $932 that the meds cost.

SO I talked to him for a few minutes, and found out a few things. ...

Like for instance that this particular member is in his middle seventies, on Medicare* and Social Security, and has worked under TAG's jurisdiction since the 1990s, and likely qualifies -- he isn't sure because he doesn't keep records -- for an industry pension. And quite possibly retiree health coverage.

And here's the thing: If the above is true, then the member can work full time and collect his pension and not be penalized because he's over 70 1/2 and so can be a full-time pensioner. And still do as much staff work or free-lancing as he likes.

The gentleman didn't know any of this. I told him, "You're leaving money on the table. There's no reason not to be collecting a pension now if you're eligible. You're just letting cash stay in the Pension Plan's pockets." He said he would drive to the Motion Picture Industry pension office, talk to an advisor, and fill out paperwork.

After we finished talking, I sat at my desk ruminating. Over the years I've gotten a number of calls like his. Usually it's from somebody confused (and often angry) over the fact that they've tripped over a Pension or Health Plan rule due to ignorance and are royally ticked off about it.

I understand their frustration, but here's what I've learned: When you don't take the time to familiarize yourself with the rules of the road, when you throw away envelopes that arrive in the mail under the belief that they're junk mail or some stupid ad, you are setting yourself up for heartache and sorrow.

This doesn't just apply to the details of the motion picture industry's health and pension plans, but everything else in the 21st century that we come in touch with. When we don't pay attention, we raise the odds that we'll get our backsides chomped into down the road. When we deny ourselves knowledge, making the tactical decision to be low information participants in life's carnival, the carny barkers stomp all over us and leave us bruised and bleeding in a corner.

I hear the complaint over and over, "But it shouldn't BE this way!" In a perfect world, perhaps it shouldn't be, but perfection -- if it exists -- is off in the clouds someplace, not down here in this sad, valley of tears.

So I urge you, plead with you, to:

Open envelopes that slide through your mail slot and look at the contents. Figure out what the confusing letter inside means before you toss it away.

Read Summary Plan Descriptions of pension and health plans under which you're working.

At your new workplace, keep your mouth closed and a smile on your face until you find out how the joint really operates. Find out who the bullies and problem children are, and give them a wider berth. And stay at your desk working during business hours.

Get a passing knowledge of state and federal labor laws. Know what the basic regulations are.

Keep improving your skill sets. If there are low-cost classes someplace that teach you the rudiments of software you need to know, take them.

Play well with others.

Understand that life isn't fair. Understand that there is no "fair." But also know that the more useful information you possess, the higher will be your odds for success.

* Medicare, he says, doesn't cover the drugs cost, but the Motion Picture Industry Health Plan does.


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