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Health Insurance Coverage for Athletes

By Brian O’Connell

When New York Jets starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers crumpled to the turf only four plays into the National Football League Monday Night opener on September 11, the sports world focused on the impact on the Jets – and on Rodgers’ future in the NFL.

In the Jets’ front offices, the bean counters and financial analysts may have been more focused on their return on investment of a different variety – on the insurance policy the team took out on their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Health Insurance for Professional Athletes

While details are sketchy, the Jets did have an insurance policy via a contract clause that will return some of the cash the team laid out for Rodgers, whose $75 million contract is fully guaranteed.

NFL teams routinely take out insurance policies on players, although the rising number of head injuries incurred by players has caused some insurers to either cut their policy coverage or cut it out altogether.

NFL players are usually advised by teams and their agents to take out personal insurance lines to cover football-related injuries and players routinely take out policies to protect themselves. At 40-years-old, for example, Hall of famer Brett Favre insured his throwing arm for $22.8 million.

Other sports supernovas do pretty much the same. Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo’s famous (and valuable) legs for $90 million while tennis star Venus Williams insured her wrists for $15 million.

That’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at athletics and insurance coverage, from the championship levels attained by the likes of Ronaldo and Williams to the average weekend warrior who hits the pickleball court or the hockey rink on a regular basis.

Here are the places where athletics and insurance intersect and what they mean for insurers and for the athletes insured.

Generally speaking, most standard health insurance plans cover sports-related injuries to an extent. “However, these plans often don’t cover specialized treatments like physical therapy or surgeries, which athletes might require,” says Tyler Grizzle, partner at GSP Insurance Group in Buford, Ga. “Specialized sports insurance plans are available to cover these gaps.”

Insurers typically offer coverage for medical expenses related to sports-related injuries, such as hospital bills and doctor’s visits.

“This may include the cost of physical therapy or rehabilitation services provided by a licensed professional,” says Scott Allen, co-founder and licensed agent at Seniors Life Insurance Finder in Los Angeles, California. “Coverage may also be provided for any medical equipment or supplies needed to treat the injury, such as crutches and braces. In some cases, coverage may extend beyond medical expenses to include lost wages due to time spent away from work recovering from the injury.”

In most cases, insurers will not cover sports-related injuries that are deemed to be intentional or self-inflicted.

“They also may not cover injuries that occur while participating in dangerous activities such as extreme sports or motorized racing,” Allen says. “Some insurers may also exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, or if the participant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the injury.”

Health Insurance for Professional Athletes

These athletes often have policies that are as bespoke as their skill sets. “Teams or leagues typically offer basic coverage, but many athletes purchase supplemental insurance to cover income loss or specific injuries,” Grizzle says.

Specific areas of insurance coverage vary, as professional athletes typically have access to insurance policies that cover medical expenses related to sports-related injuries, such as hospital bills and doctor’s visits.

“Some policies may also provide coverage for lost wages due to time spent away from work recovering from the injury,” Allen notes. “In most cases, professional athletes will be required to carry their own personal
health insurance in order to receive any benefits under a professional league policy.”

Professional sports leagues typically provide coverage for medical expenses and lost wages due to time spent away from the team. “This coverage may also extend beyond traditional insurance policies, such as providing money for long-term disability benefits or rehabilitation services,” Allen adds.

High-School and Collegiate Athlete Insurance

Insurance for student-athletes can also vary.

“Schools may offer coverage for injuries sustained during official practices and events,” says Cameron Heinz, insurance specialist at Mobility Nest, a mobility scooter, power wheelchairs, and patient lift retailer. “Parents can explore additional coverage options to ensure comprehensive protection.

Parents of youth sports participants should consider accident insurance to cover medical expenses resulting from sports-related injuries. “When doing so, it’s vital to understand what the league or organization’s insurance covers, Heinz says.

It’s also worth noting the NCAA mandates its student athletes to carry personal insurance, which can be held by the student athlete or his parents or guardians. Premiums cost between $220 to $1,000, dependent on the type of insurance and how much the payout the insurer must fork over for an injury.

“Youth leagues often have liability coverage to protect against lawsuits arising from injuries or accidents during sports activities,” Heinz says.

Depending on the level of competition, parents and schools may be able to purchase different types of insurance policies to cover medical expenses, injury costs, or even loss of scholarship opportunities due to unforeseen circumstances.

“High school students often have access to accident insurance plans through their school or district that provide coverage for medical expenses resulting from injuries sustained while playing sports,” says Linda Chavez, an insurance specialist at Senior Life Insurance Finders.

College athletes often have access to more comprehensive insurance plans, such as “loss of value” policies, which cover a portion of tuition if an athlete suffers an injury that significantly impacts their athletic
performance and future earning potential, Chavez notes.

“Schools may also provide some basic liability coverage in the form of general legal liability insurance, which can protect them in the event of a lawsuit or other claim,” she adds.

For Amateur “Weekend Warrior” Athletes

Amateur adult athletes can explore health insurance plans that cover sports-related injuries.

“Considerations include coverage for rehabilitation and the ability to choose specialists familiar with sports injuries,” Chavez says.

Amateur athletes typically provide coverage for medical expenses related to sports-related injuries, such as hospital bills and doctor’s visits. “Some policies may also provide coverage for lost wages due to time spent away from work recovering from the injury,” Allen says.

When choosing a health plan for an amateur adult athlete, it’s important to look for policies that include coverage for sports-related injuries.

“It’s also important to make sure that the policy includes coverage for any pre-existing conditions or any activities that involve an element of risk, such as extreme sports or motorized racing,” Allen adds.

Tips on getting the best athletes insurance policy: Across the board, there’s a lot to learn for the average athlete about getting the right insurance. These tips can help get the job done.

For parents with youth athletes: Read the fine print and understand the limitations of any school-provided insurance. “Supplemental policies might be a wise choice to cover additional risks like dental injuries or concussions,” Grizzle says.

Insurance for amateur adult athletes: Personal accident insurance or supplemental health plans are available, but standard health insurance may suffice for most.

“The key is to ensure the plan covers the specific activities they’re participating in, like, say, pickleball,” Grizzle says.

Check with your insurance provider to make sure you have enough coverage: “Many parents don’t realize that their homeowner’s insurance policy might only cover up to a certain amount in the event of an accident or injury,” Chavez says.

Consider taking out an umbrella insurance policy: An umbrella policy provides additional liability protection for situations not covered by your existing car and homeowners policies, Chavez notes.

Purchase additional coverage for sports-related travel accidents and stay-at-home injuries. “The cost of traveling to tournaments can add up quickly, and you don’t want to find yourself paying out of pocket in the event of an injury or accident,” Chavez says.

Make sure you understand your policy’s limits and deductibles: Some policies have lower deductibles for sports-related injuries, so it’s important to make sure you understand the details.

Have a plan in place if your child is injured during practice or competition: Take steps to ensure that your child receives prompt medical attention and that all documents are filled out correctly should an
incident occur.

The Last Word on Getting Insurance Coverage for Athletics

Finally, it is important to remember that even if an amateur adult athlete does have insurance coverage, there may be limits on how much will be paid out.

For instance, some plans may not cover certain types of injuries, or may require a deductible to be paid before coverage kicks in.

“It’s important to review these details and understand the associated costs before making any decisions about which health plan is best for you,” Chavez says.

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