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'Ellen Needs Insurance' is the real story of an actor in her quest to get coverage

Ellen Haun and Dru Johnston got creative when they needed health insurance.
Dru Johnston
Ellen Haun and Dru Johnston got creative when they needed health insurance.

Creative inspiration can strike from anywhere. For married couple Ellen Haun and Dru Johnston, both in the entertainment industry, it came from a place of necessity.

Haun is a member of the Screen Actors Guild, and realized earlier this fall that she would be $804 short of meeting the minimum earnings required by the union to qualify for health insurance.

"Every year, you have to earn $26,470 to qualify for health insurance for the next year. So I didn't think I was going to hit it. I kind of started panicking," Haun said. "I started trying to submit myself for a bunch of different auditions. I asked my agents if they could get me as many auditions as possible. I started doing background work to kind of chip away at what I needed to hit my minimum."

But despite that scramble, she began to fear there wasn't enough time or potential bookings for her to meet her deadline of December 31. After discussing this crisis, the couple came up with an unorthodox solution – why not make a short film about Ellen needing health insurance, cast her in it, and pay her the $804 she needed?

Thus, the concept for the short film, Ellen Needs Insurance, was born.

It will be written and produced by Haun and Johnston, with Haun starring and Johnston directing. The process for receiving approval from the Screen Actors Guild on a project can be lengthy and bureaucratic, so they made sure to find an executive producer, Darren Miller, who would keep their production in check with paperwork and deadlines.

Now, their main focus is casting parts and crowdfunding the project so they can begin filming in December.

The team is aiming to raise $30,000 for the project, a lofty sounding number for a one-woman show. So far, they've raised over $10,000. Haun and Johnston figured, if they were going through all the trouble of making a film for this purpose, why not help others in a similar position?

"We were like, if we're going to do that, we're going to go all out, and we might as well try to get as many actors as possible health insurance," Johnston said.

They are now looking to cast 15 actors who are also close to meeting their health insurance minimum, and then pay them the specific amount needed to hit the target.

If they surpass their fundraising goal, they say they will write and cast more parts for the production to spread the wealth as far as possible. The couple has written a script, and Haun says she is looking forward to making something she feels proud of.

"I think this is why both Dru and I are in comedy. Writing about the absurdity of how much [insurance] costs and how hard it is to keep your doctor if your insurance changes? I don't know, there's humor in it. It makes me feel a lot better to laugh about it," Haun said.

After getting married, the couple was able to claim each other for health insurance coverage. Now, they'll both rely on Ellen meeting the minimum.
/ Seed and Spark
Seed and Spark
After getting married, the couple was able to claim each other for health insurance coverage. Now, they'll both rely on Ellen meeting the minimum.

The couple says that struggling to meet insurance minimums is not unique to their circumstances. The uncertainty of working in the entertainment industry, and life itself, means that sometimes you just won't know how many jobs you'll be booking. In fact, Johnston came up with the idea for a meta health insurance film five years earlier, when he found himself in a similar situation, but ended up missing the window to qualify that year.

"In this industry, they often say an idea is never dead. It just kind of goes to sleep and remains dormant. And in the worst possible way, that's exactly what this idea is, a dystopian idea [that] just keeps coming back around," Johnston said.

"We just kind of wanted to show how crazy it is that no matter how hard you hustle, insurance is just this thing that should not be tied to your employment."

For Haun, it's more than just commentary.

"Insurance, as an actor, kind of becomes emotional. I remember the first time I qualified, I was 27. I had just booked a really big commercial. I was so proud of myself and I was so excited," she said. "And then, as the years have gone on, I'm like, I'm really glad I have this insurance coverage. But also, this doesn't work great."

Ellen Needs Insurance is planned for release in spring 2023. For more information and updates, visit

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Manuela López Restrepo
Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.