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December 13, 2022
America Dissected
Ellen Needs Insurance with Ellen Haun

In This Episode

Health insurance in America is anything but “sure.” Most Americans under Medicare age rely on their employment for their insurance — but that leaves millions of people struggling to get basic insurance, or worse, uninsured. Ellen Haun is an actor who was $804 short of what she needed to earn to be eligible for health insurance through her union. So to do just that, she decided to make a movie about … an actor trying to earn enough money to get health insurance. She sat down with Abdul to talk about her experience and what it says about America’s healthcare system.

 

TRANSCRIPT

[sponsor note] [AD BREAK]. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: [music break] COVID, influenza, and RSV are on a post-thanksgiving tear. Filling up hospitals around the country. A new Senate report concluded that much of the illness and economic shock in the early days of the pandemic could have been prevented with an adequate public health response. And one of the most important global vaccine suppliers has decided to end its supply of COVID vaccines to 37 countries amidst plummeting demand. This is America Dissected. I’m your host, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. [music break] Today we’re talking about the one thing that most of us hate but would never willingly go without. And that’s our health insurance. To set the scene, I want you to think about what this time of year means to you. Perhaps you’re getting ready for the holidays. The tree is up, the menorah is up. Mariah Carey is doing her thing over the loudspeaker of every single store in the country. Starbucks has red cups. You’ll probably have a cup in a super crowded airport on the way to visit family or friends. And if you’re like most Americans, you are hustling like hell to book doctor’s appointments for everyone in the house. Wait, what? That’s right. See, even if you have insurance, there’s nothing all that sure about it. You think that your insurance should mean that you can get the health care you want when you need it, not before January 1st. But most health insurance comes with a deductible. The money you have to pay to get access to the health insurance you thought you already paid for. For the average family of four making about $75,000 a year. That deductible costs an average of $3,600 every single year, $3,600 every single year. If you’re doing the math, that $3600 deductible is more than the average family’s biweekly paycheck, which, by the way, gets garnished every single pay period just to pay for that health insurance in the first place. So on top of losing hundreds of dollars every two weeks, you’ve got to pay a whole paycheck for your health care. And chances are, by this time in the year, you’ve already paid your full deductible so you can get the health care you need without having to pay extra for it. But here’s the thing about it. That deductible, well, it renews at the first of the year. So millions of Americans are left scrambling to fill in every last doctor’s visit before January 1st, before they have to pay that deductible all over again. So that makes the holidays the get all your health care in before your deductible renews days. And that’s just one of the ways our insurance system degrades us. And yet, in America, you’d always rather have insurance, then go without it. Serious question. If you knew you were going to lose your insurance next year, what would you do to keep it? What would you do to make sure that you and your loved ones could see a doctor without breaking your bank account if you got sick? How important is that to you? What would you trade off? The fact that I can even ask you that question, the fact that millions of Americans have to consistently answer that question is a blight on the moral fabric of our country. In every other high income country in the world, every single one. The notion that you should have to trade anything for your health insurance would be an abomination. It would be unthinkable. Our guest today faced exactly that situation though. Ellen Haun is an actor who gets her health insurance through the Screen Actors Guild. Their benefits, by all accounts, are generous, but you have to earn a certain amount of money in SAG eligible acting contracts to be eligible. And Ellen was, well, $804 short, and that’s when alongside her husband and screenwriter Drew Johnston. Ellen decided to make a movie about her situation. It’s called well, Ellen Needs Insurance. And they hired 14 other actors who were in a similar position to her, helping all 15 qualify for their health insurance. I sat down with Ellen to talk about her situation, what she learned about America’s health care system. And of course, the movie. Spoiler alert, Ellen gets her insurance. More with Ellen Haun after this break. 

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: Here’s my conversation with Ellen Haun. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right um can you introduce yourself for the tape? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah, my name is Ellen Haun, and I’m a writer and an actor. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So did you ever think you’d make a whole movie specifically about health insurance? 

 

Ellen Haun: No, I did not. [laughing] And I guess, to be honest, I don’t ever want to again. [laugh] But um that’s okay. It was that my husband and I both write comedy, and I think we were comedians because we find a lot because, because when things get really bad, we think things are funny. Right? [laughing] And so when this stressful thing was happening in our lives where I thought I might not qualify for my health insurance next year, laughing about it and like making a comedy about it was honestly just felt natural and it felt um cathartic and it felt like the easy answer for us. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: You laugh so you don’t cry, as they say. 

 

Ellen Haun: Exactly. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Um. I’ve never made a movie about health insurance. I’ve written a book about health insurance. Um. And to be short about this, I don’t like it very much, um which is why I think we should replace it with a national version. Um. But I’ve never made a movie, and um I’d love to hear a little bit about um your pathway to doing this. But first, can you tell me a little bit about your your time as an actor? How long have you been an actor? And I think for a lot of folks, they don’t really we don’t really understand sort of how the day to day of being an actor works, aside from you act in films and commercials and TV shows. But like, what’s it like the day to day? How do you know what you’re doing tomorrow? Um. What’s that process like? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. I mean, I think maybe the reason that people don’t know what it is day to day is because every day is different. Um. So I went to I started acting as a kid. I’m sure that’s true of a lot of actors. And then I went to a theater school for college, and then um I worked for a year at a theater, Actors Theater of Louisville after I graduated. It’s kind of like a pre-professional program that kind of like, gets you off to New York and, like, teaches you how to basically have a career. Um. So after that, I moved to New York and just kind of started hustling the way that most like out of theater school actors do. Um. So meaning I was I was bartending at night and then during the day um there are auditions that are called open calls where, you know, if a theater’s doing a play somewhere, they’re required to have an open call audition and see as many actors as they possibly can. And so you wake up really early, you go to this audition, you sign up, you wait for many hours until they’re able to see you because there are a lot of other people there. And um and then you audition and then you go work your you know, bartending or waitressing job at night. And so that was like the first that was like the first couple of years of my career and then New York. The great thing about being a young actor in New York is that everyone is always like putting on a show and trying to make some work, trying to get their work out there. So it’s just a really it’s hard, right? It’s uh New York is an expensive place to live. And it’s um you have to you have to work really hard, both like financially and then also artistically to kind of like make any inroads. But I think it’s just a great way to cut your teeth and kind of figure out who you are as an artist and what you want to be saying in the world. Um. And that was like the time in my life, in my like maybe mid to late twenties when I actually started like really focusing on comedy and doing a lot more comedy. And a lot of that came from the fact that I really finally figured out that I enjoyed writing and really loved it. And as an actor, you don’t always have a lot of control over the projects you’re auditioning for and what you’re getting to work on. And when you write the project and then put yourself in it, you do have control over what the project is and what you’re talking about and what the tone is, what the what the choices are. Not that you have all of the control, but you have a lot more control than like, you know, just coming in as an actor and as a hired gun. I mean, so now my days look much different. I um I’m both writing and acting pretty much full time. For acting what happens is that your agent or your manager is going to send you an audition. And the way that auditions work these days is that for the most part, it comes in like a day or two before you need to get it done. And the way that it used to work pre-COVID is that you would go into a casting office and do the audition for a casting director. And the way that it works now is basically you record yourself at home and upload it and it gets sent off to the casting director. You know, some some months are really busy and other months are really slow. But yeah, that’s kind of the day to day. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: It sounds both extremely hectic and very, very insecure. And I think um for a lot of folks who um, you know, have the privilege of a sort of classic 9 to 5, um the expectation is that you go you work your 9 to 5, you do your job, and then you get paid um uh every two weeks or every month. And um part of your benefits package, which includes retirements and uh health insurance, uh is um part of the, the wage of the work. Right. That that that benefits package and so for actors whose work, um you know, is basically like hunting. You eat what you kill, right? Uh. That security is is sort of assumed not to be present. But then there are things that you kind of need from your work, like that insurance. So how do actors get insured? 

 

Ellen Haun: So there are two acting unions. There’s the Screen Actors Guild, and there is Actors Equity. Actors Equity covers uh theater performers. And like the people that you see on Broadway. And SAG-AFTRA covers uh television and film performers. Most actors are a member of both. I am a member of both. So I get my insurance through SAG-AFTRA. And the way that SAG health insurance works is that every year you have to earn $26,470. It goes up just a little bit every year, but there’s an amount of money that you have to earn every year in order to qualify for the insurance and stay on it for the next year. Um. It’s not exactly the calendar year the quarters move. So the way that I qualified like six or seven years ago has kind of locked me into this quarter where uh my year is up at the end of the calendar year also. But a lot of actors are in it, you know, June to June, April to April. Um. It just kind of depends on when you qualify. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And so you have to make a certain amount of money that qualifies as this type of work that’s in effect covered by this kind of union bargaining agreement. What’s the quality of the health insurance? Is it good insurance? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah, it’s great insurance. It’s I’m so grateful for it. It’s awesome. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So no high deductible, no high co-pay. You get a pretty generous network. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Okay. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah, exactly. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And and if you don’t make enough money, there’s no way to buy in. You just, you’re just out? 

 

Ellen Haun: My understanding is that there is not a way to buy in. There is a COBRA option. Um. If you kind of are losing it for a few months or you get kicked off of it. But there’s not. You can’t you’re not allowed to just pay yourself and then you qualify for the insurance. All of the work has to come through SAG after acting contracts. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Mmm. And if you don’t make it, you’re kind of just SOL for the next year. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. And you can qualify. You know, if I, if I were to lose it at the end of this year and then, you know, make a bunch of money in January and February, I could then requalify for April. But yes, I would be I would not qualify for those three months. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So this year, how short were you? 

 

Ellen Haun: Well, so I usually qualify for insurance with my commercial acting work. And I had a commercial that stopped that had been running for a long time and stopped running, and that was about in July. And so at that point, I was about $6,000 away. And I just thought, I need to start working really hard to make sure that I do get it by the end of the year. So at that point, I took matters into my own hands and I started doing background work and just slowly started chipping away at that $6,000. Um. And I’ve just kind of been doing that over the course of the year. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So for those of us who are not actors, what do you mean by background work? 

 

Ellen Haun: I mean, being an extra. That’s background is the, I guess, official name for being an extra in a movie. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Okay. So you were auditioning for these different extra roles and you were just chipping away at this $6,000 hole that you realized you had with about half the year left to go. Yeah. All right. And as you approached, rounded the the bend here um into the end of the year, how close did you get? 

 

Ellen Haun: In the fall I was about $2,000 away, and I was feeling pretty anxious about it because like all acting work, background work is also not particularly regular. And you just kind of get a call the day or two before, like, hey, we need you on Thursday and you really hope your schedule is clear on Thursday or you clear it yourself. Um. And so I was just I was starting to worry that I wasn’t going to be able to do it. So then at that point, that’s when I thought about making a movie about a fictional actor named Ellen, who is really struggling to get her health insurance and seeing if that could help. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So so you basically made the Ellen biopic in order to–

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah exactly. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: –uh to to protect, like, the Ellen bio um. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah, exactly. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Uh. And how much did you have to make off of this movie in order to be able to qualify? 

 

Ellen Haun: Well, I think that so so this is the kind of the difficult thing about the insurance, is that so you get a residual check from like a TV show or a commercial that is running that you you didn’t know you were going to get. Um. You get money like every time that airs. So I got residuals and some background work that actually I think are putting me over the edge without this film. Um. But when we started pre-production, I didn’t know that was going to happen. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. So you were like touch and go there for a while. And it sort of highlights the insecurity of your situation, which is you could wait for a phantom check that you don’t see coming to come through to then put you over the edge to qualify for SAG-AFTRA health insurance. Or you get to the end of the year, that phantom check never comes through, and you don’t have health insurance for the next year. Um. So you get this idea to make this film and uh tell me how this comes about and what the process is from there. I mean, how do you actually put the film together? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. So so the idea for the movie actually happened a couple of years ago when my husband, Drew Johnston, who is a member of the Writers Guild, um had the exact same situation where he was $800 short of qualifying for his health insurance through the Writers Guild. And the Writers Guild works the exact same way that that SAG works, where you have to earn a certain amount by the end of the year. And so he didn’t make his $800 and he lost his insurance. He just hopped on my insurance. And a few months later he said, like, oh, I just should have made a web series called Drew Needs Insurance. And it should have been about like working really hard to try to get your insurance. And I thought it was funny and we, like, laughed about it. But, you know, at that point, you know, we were on my insurance, so everything was okay. And so then this year, when I was starting to get anxious about whether or not I was going to qualify, I thought like, hey, we should make Ellen Needs Insurance. We should make the version about me, you know, we should make the film all about me. So Drew and I started talking about what the script would look like. We started writing it. At this point, I want to be very clear that you can’t like it is against SAG rules to like pay yourself the amount of money. You know, you can’t finance a project and um you can’t pay yourself the amount of money that you need to qualify for the insurance. So at this point, we looped in a producer that we know uh who works at Funny or Die and then has his own production company, uh Darren Miller, and his production company is Big Mischief. He read the script. He really liked it. He thought it was funny. And so he agreed to executive produce the project. So from there we got another producer attached and this was probably in, yeah, this was in September. And then we started doing the paperwork with SAG. We started crowdfunding, everything was pretty fast and furious because we filmed the very first weekend in December. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. So tell us a little bit about the film. Like what happens? Does Ellen does Ellen get her insurance? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. Spoiler alert she does. Um. So we’re calling it a meta comedy about an actress named Ellen who realizes she’s $804 away from qualifying for her health insurance and just starts doing everything she can to get that insurance. So the story is told through a series of little kind of sketches or comedy vignettes. Um. There’s there are a couple conversations with me and my friend, and we’re stressing and trying to figure out how I can get this insurance. There’s a phone call with my agent where I’m talking to her about like, oh, I really need to book a commercial. And she says, oh, my gosh, you’re going to book a commercial. That’s easy. And then the next conversation we have is, sorry, it’s really slow right now. I don’t have any auditions for you. And then um there’s also little vignettes of me doing background work and like what that is like because it is wild and a trip. Um. And then at the end, um the fictional Ellen in the movie kind of thinks, hmm, maybe I should just make a movie all about insurance. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And um the other part of this is that you needed other talent for this film, um and you were very specific about the kinds of folks that you casted. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. So we um we really wanted to help actors that were in a similar situation that I was in where they felt like they needed a little bit more to qualify for the end of the year. So we had auditions, we had people read for the roles and but we told everybody what the project was and what the story was about. And we made clear that we were looking for people in a similar situation. So those are the people that like. Yeah. Like submitted themself for the project. Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And how did you finance the project? I mean, I know you had a, a production team on board. Um. This is probably one of those late breaker things, given that you didn’t have very much time to turn this around. Um. How did you finance the project? 

 

Ellen Haun: It was all through crowdfunding, so we ran a campaign on Seed and Spark, which is one of those like Kickstarter Indiegogo websites. Seed and Spark only does films. Um. And so, yeah, it was all we raised the whole production budget from that crowdfunding campaign. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Hmm. Um. How much was it? 

 

Ellen Haun: $30,000, which was our production budget. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So here’s my question. How many people will now have insurance because of your film? 

 

Ellen Haun: I believe that the majority of the cast, uh our cast was like 15. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: 15 more people with insurance. And to sort of back up here, you had to make a whole movie so that you could employ 15 different people to work in a movie about people needing to work in a movie to get health insurance. Um. And these 15 people will have health insurance now um because of that. And some of them may, you know, have a really bad diagnosis that um they could get treatment for simply because this happened. And at the same time, this opens up a whole bag of worms about the extremely precarious approach that we take in this country to health insurance. Um. What has this experience taught you about the American health insurance system? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. Oh, man. Drew and I have talked about this a lot, and my mom is a nurse and my sister is in public health. So I’ve talked–

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. 

 

Ellen Haun: –about this a lot with them, too. Um. You know, I think the fundamental I said earlier how proud I am to be a member of a union that like provides its members really, really good health insurance. But I think, you know, I mean, obviously, the pandemic exposed a number of like really serious flaws in our health care system. And almost everybody already knew those flaws were there, but especially for performers and for actually really anyone in the performing arts. So the writers, directors, um the the crew members, all of these people’s employment is tied in some way to how much you’re working, whether you qualify through money, which is like how SAG and the WGA work or whether you qualify through weeks, which is how Actors Equity works, or if you qualify through hours and days, which is how IATSE works. IATSE is the union that covers all the crew members, all of the cinematographers, costumers, etc., etc.. Um. Obviously, with the pandemic and the entire entertainment industry needing to shut down for a while, you couldn’t qualify. Um. And this is obviously a microcosm of the major problem of American health care being so tied to your employment and being so tied to your job and how frequently you can work. Like the specific problems that actors run into is that like, you know, I know a lot of women that have lost their health insurance after having a baby because, you know, the reality is you need to take like six months off. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right. 

 

Ellen Haun: I mean, like, you know, three months at best. Reality like real world. You can’t really work. Yeah, can’t work when you’re pregnant. You can’t work when you have a newborn. Um. And then also, you know, I have friends that have had to leave town for a while to take care of a sick relative and obviously then haven’t been able to work. And that is like the actor specific example. But you know, that’s that’s the fundamental problem with health insurance in the United States is that if is that it’s just tied so closely to your job. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: We’ll be back with more with Ellen Huan after this break. 

 

[AD BREAK]

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: And we’re back with more of my conversation with Alan Hahn. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: What you’re highlighting is the circularity of the whole thing is when you need your health insurance, it’s usually when you’re sick and when you’re sick, you can’t really work. And so if your insurance is tied to your ability to work, by definition, it does not meet your needs when you need it. Um. And, you know, you have really good health insurance through SAG. Um. You know, you think about folks who work in careers where they’re not protected by a union that can negotiate really high quality uh health insurance for them. They’re working several hours and their employers deliberately uh reduce their hours so that they are not required to provide them health insurance. And so folks are stuck in effect um in this limbo. Uh. You know, if you look at, for example, Walmart, um the degree to which the federal government is subsidizing Walmart because Walmart deliberately suppresses its hours so that uh and its wages so that its employees uh are not given health insurance through their employer. And then, in effect, also, um their wages are suppressed to the point where they’re Medicaid eligible. You end up having federal subsidization of health insurance for Walmart workers across the country. Um. And so in some respects, it’s like, you know, you’re in this extremely precarious, insecure situation and you had to make a movie to be able to work in this movie so that you and 14 other people could get health insurance next year. Um. And then there are a whole legion of workers um who don’t even have that uh precarity. Um. And it just highlights the circular depths of the kind of I hate to say it, but evil of a system that’s got you working for a thing that you fundamentally need to be able to live and work. Um in your trailer in tongue in cheek, you sort of joked about not living in Canada. Do you know how actors get their um insurance in Canada? 

 

Ellen Haun: Wow, you know what? I honestly don’t I don’t know, because I know there’s an acting union in Canada, but I don’t know if they. Yeah, I don’t know. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Well, see, the thing about it is, in Canada, it doesn’t matter if you’re an actor or you’re unemployed or you’re the CEO of a company, you get health insurance through the Canadian government. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yes. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: So you actually don’t have to worry about this at all. 

 

Ellen Haun: Right. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Right. Your union doesn’t have to spend half their time negotiating health insurance for you. They can focus on your wage and your workplace safety and uh your livability and all these other things. Right. So that’s the thing. Right. Like, if you were in Canada, you could work or not work and you would still get health insurance. And that’s the thing– 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: –we just don’t guarantee to our citizens in this country simply because it’s too lucrative for too many companies uh to have you working to get your insurance. Uh. And, you know, we take it for granted that that’s the way the system works. But, you know, if you sat down and talked to an actor or a hockey player or a CEO or a Walmart worker, all of them get their health insurance the same way. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah, my my husband um was on the board of the Writers Guild East for a couple of years. And he said exactly what you said about how, you know, the Writers Guild health insurance is also great. But his biggest complaint was like if the United States had universal health care, if we all had health insurance, then these unions wouldn’t need to spend so much time and so much effort bargaining to get us, you know, just a baseline of coverage or good coverage, you know, whatever the health insurance is. And we could actually focus on arguing for higher wages, more protections. It would just take a huge amount off of the plate of um unions when they go into their bargaining agreements. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. And what we don’t appreciate is that, you know, no matter what industry you work in, there is a premium that is paid um specifically to guarantee health insurance first. Right. It’s the first thing because it’s so existentially critical. It is the first thing that every union has to secure. And that’s all money that’s not being secured uh in income. Um. And it’s a whole bunch of other potential benefits that are not being bargained because you’re so busy bargaining for insurance. And, you know, this is the crazy thing is that, um you know, if you’re working a 9 to 5 and as I assume most of our listeners here are, um every bi weekly or monthly paycheck, your paycheck is getting garnished to pay a premium. I don’t know why we call it that. There is literally nothing premium about it to pay for insurance that your employer is also paying. So it’s you and your employer paying uh to have that insurance. And then should you actually need to use that insurance, you probably have to pay something at the point of care. And if you’re early enough in the year, you probably haven’t paid down a deductible, which means that you have to pay a certain amount to get the health care that you already paid for. And and when we willingly accept the situation and then they tell us we have choice because we get to pick between two or three different plans that all kind of look the same and if you don’t have an actuarial table, you really can’t make heads or tails uh out of that quote unquote “choice”. Um. You know, one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because, you know, your story highlights uh the ends to which people often have to go to get access to this thing um that ought to be a human right in this country and, frankly, in the rest of the world. Um. But also, you know, it highlights the fact that actually it’s precarious for all of us. And we somewhat take it for granted um that it’s going to be there for us. And, you know, for most of us who are privileged enough to be healthy, um we expect that it’s going to be there for us should we need it. But for too many people, too often, it’s actually just not right. Um. I want to ask you, like, have you have you used your SAG health insurance? And what was your experience, you know, in that situation? 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been you know, I consider myself really lucky because I’ve been on the insurance since I was about I think I first got it when I was about 27. I had like I had like it was like my first really great professional career, like career year. I had like booked two commercials back to back and a pilot and I got, I was so excited when I got the packet in the mail that was like, congratulations, you’ve qualified for SAG health insurance. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow. 

 

Ellen Haun: Because the other thing that is really interesting that I’ve thought a lot about as we’ve been working on this movie, is that health insurance like becomes so emotional and it becomes such a point, especially as an actor, it becomes a point of pride like I this is where I’m at in my career. I am working enough that I get the health insurance. And the reality of this career is that, you know, pandemic aside, we all just have up years and we all have down years. And, you know, it’s really a blow to your ego when you have a down year. Like, it doesn’t make you feel good. You think, what am I? Oh, I have to go back to school. Like, what am I doing wrong? What is it about me? And the reality is it’s usually not about you. Like there are other factors at play. Um. But then when you get hit with this real world, you have this emotional gut punch of– 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. 

 

Ellen Haun: Oh, I’m just kind of in a slump right now. And then you have this real world gut punch of, Oh, I might lose my health insurance because for whatever reason, I just haven’t booked very much this year. And it’s, ugh you know, and this is again, this is why I’m in comedy, because if I think I mean, you know, when I do sit down and like think about it really hard, it’s it’s really depressing and it’s really frustrating that we are the wealthiest country in the world and this is what our health care system is. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. I mean, it is a literal gut punch. Like, literally. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: If you were to get sick because you didn’t book as much because uh you had a down year, basically what what you’re being told is your body’s not even worth insuring if you get sick, you are literally worthless. Right. Like, I mean, that is a– 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: –[?] it’s like it’s like adding injury to insult. Right. Um. And that’s the that’s the thing is that this is exactly what our system does all the time. Um. It’s either adding insult to injury, you get sick, you try and pay for your health care. You realize that you got a huge bill that you have to fight some insurance for or it’s it’s adding uh injury to insult. Right. So you–

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: –have a down year or, you know, you get fired from a job or uh whatever it is. And then all of a sudden we take away your health care because we’ve deemed you as so insignificant that nobody should even pay for your health care should you get sick. Right. Go on and die. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Which is basically what the system is telling you. Um. And so I just, you know, it is so precarious no matter who you are or what your circumstances are. And yours is such a unique story. But then, you know, the upside is that uh you found such a interesting, compelling and um collective uh approach to making sure that you and several of your colleagues um got the insurance that you all deserved. I can imagine that in your circumstances, um your body being healthy is part and parcel of your work. Right? Um and the ability to take care of yourself if something should happen that that really is like the future of your career. Have you had um friends or colleagues lose their insurance and then get sick? Um what was that situation for them? 

 

Ellen Haun: I mean, the example that I think of most often is the one that I’ve already mentioned where I have had multiple friends who have been on the insurance and then have given birth and then– 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. 

 

Ellen Haun: –just have lost it later that year because they haven’t been, you know, because you you can’t work when you’re– 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Because they they how how dare they have a baby. 

 

Ellen Haun: Right. Exactly. And there’s my understanding is that the union is trying to fix that and trying to incorporate some sort of like six month or three month pause in your calendar, which would really be a massive help. Um. So they’re listening on that, um which is good. But I but, you know, I mean, I think I also know people that have had that have gotten sick on the insurance and then, you know, haven’t been able to work and they’ve lost it as a result of that, um which is awful. It’s–

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah. 

 

Ellen Haun: Yeah. It’s really awful. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That is absolutely awful. So when uh and where can we can we watch the film? When is it going to come out um and when where can we uh watch it when it does? 

 

Ellen Haun: Well, yeah. So we shot the film this last weekend um in Los Angeles and it went uh it went great. We’re really excited to see it. So now we’re in the post-production phase, which means we’re editing and we’re doing the sound mix and we’ll do color. Um. We have a couple of film festivals that we want to apply for in February, so hopefully we will have a cut of the movie done, a rough cut of the movie done by the end of January. And then the way that a lot of film festivals work is that they don’t want you to release it online first. They want you to premiere it at their festival. So we’re going to wait for to hear back from a couple of those in the spring. But most likely, we will be um releasing the film online in the spring. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right. Well, we’ll look forward to uh watching it and certainly um hope that you’ll let us know when it comes out and we’ll make sure to to share it with uh our listeners. So now that you have um health insurance uh for the next year, I can formally tell you that you should break a leg. And [laughter] uh and we really appreciate you coming on the show to share um your experience and and the innovative approach that you took uh to securing your health insurance. Our guest today is Ellen Haun. She is um a writer and actor and she is uh the co-writer and costar of Ellen Needs Insurance, which will come out in the spring. Ellen, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. 

 

Ellen Haun: Thank you for having me. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating: As usual, here’s what I’m watching right now. Last Thanksgiving, we all settled into our tryptophan induced post-meal haze, only to be popped right back out of it. With this news. 

 

[clip of unspecified news reporter] Scientists around the world are racing to understand Covid’s new mutant strain, the Omicron variant. 

 

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: This year. Thankfully, there haven’t been any new pandemic redefining variants that have emerged, and that’s a great thing. And yet, the holiday still means that lots of people huddled into close quarters at a time when respiratory diseases are spreading rapidly. Before the holidays, we spoke with epidemiologist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina about the so-called tripledemic of COVID, RSV, and the flu. Even before Thanksgiving, each of them was beginning to spread rapidly. But after Thanksgiving, each has begun to surge. Flu hospitalizations are up 70% since Thanksgiving. COVID hospitalizations are up 30%. And that’s going to increase because cases, well, they’re up 50% over the same period. Meanwhile, RSV continues to fill up children’s hospitals around the country. Right now would be a great time to remind you, as we are in the habit of doing here, to make sure you get an updated vaccine for both COVID and the flu. This week, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee published a report on COVID deaths and economic devastation during the early days of the pandemic. The 242 page report points specifically to preexisting failures in our public health infrastructure, from underfunding to staffing failures to poor surveillance and communication in this whole fiasco. But it also points to the Trump administration’s disastrous response for failing to stockpile or procure PPE or even communicate openly with the public. But here’s the thing, a Senate after action report is only useful if it informs our before action for the next one. It only matters that we understand what we did wrong last time, if we’re willing to do what’s right next time. And right now, even as cases climb, Congress looks unlikely to pass another tranche of funding for vaccines, treatments or the health care system. See all this report is great, but maybe we can put our money where our pens are. Finally, GAVI, one of the key organizations behind COVAX, the global vaccine program that was supposed to vaccinate lower and middle income countries across the globe has pulled out of its commitments to provide vaccines to 37 countries. They cited the plummeting demand for vaccines as a key reason for pulling out. But this program, as we’ve discussed on the show so many times, was doomed to fail from the jump. Vaccines, after all, are all about timing. The central failure of COVAX was that it relied on high income countries to provide vaccines to lower and middle income countries only after they’d gotten their fill. This was in direct opposition to empowering these countries to manufacture vaccines for themselves. The program was more focused on protecting vaccine manufacturers patents, despite the fact that it was taxpayers in higher income countries like this one that supported all the research and development costs in the first place than it was on making sure folks around the country could get those vaccines in a timely way. That had two consequences. First, it meant that the bulk of vaccinations only arrived after the worst of the pandemic had already hit. Which, of course, led to lower demand. And second, the time it took for vaccines to finally reach lower and middle income countries allowed myths and disinformation to fully spread and undercut demand for the vaccines as well. Perhaps next time, rather than listen to billionaire corporate philanthropists about how to vaccinate the world, maybe we’ll just give manufacturers around the world the recipe to manufacture it for themselves. How about that? Before we go, a note about next week’s show. We’re doing a holiday mailbag. I’ll be answering all your health and frankly, non-health related questions. So ask away. Email us your questions at AmericaDissected@Crooked.com or ask on Twitter with the #America Dissected. That’s it for today. On your way out. Don’t forget to rate and review. It really does go a long way. Also, if you love the show and want to rep us out, I hope you’ll drop by the Crooked Store for some America Dissected merch. We’ve got our logo mugs and t shirts, our science always wins sweatshirts and dad caps are available on sale. [music break] America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producers are Tara Terpstra and Emma Illic-Frank. Vasilis Fotopoulos mixes and masters the show. Production support from Ari Schwartz and Ines Maza. Our theme song is by Taka Yasuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Leo Duran, Sarah Geismer, Sandy Girard, Michael Martinez, and me, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed your host. Thanks for listening. [music break] This show is for general information and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific health care or medical advice and should not be construed as providing health care or medical advice. Please consult your physician with any questions related to your own health. The views expressed in this podcast reflect those of the host and his guests and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Wayne County, Michigan, or its Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services.