Critics of college sports’ current health insurance model complain that it’s inefficient, contains costly gaps in coverage for the NCAA and its members, and creates policies that don’t guarantee equal coverage for athletes across all conferences and schools. The NCAA requires that athletes have insurance paid for by the school, the athlete or his or her family. The insurance must cover up to the $90,000 deductible of the NCAA catastrophic injury program.
In other words, if a student-athlete doesn’t cover the deductible, he or she doesn’t get the NCAA coverage. Former Rep. and Oklahoma football player J.C. Watts is pushing for a replacement of that model.
Among the proposed coverage provisions through the benefits plan:
• Ensure no out-of-pocket expenses for players and their family for injuries that occurred while participating in college sports. Schools often pay a lot of these costs but there are no requirements and some athletes get saddled with thousands of dollars in medical bills from injuries sustained in college.
• Provide health coverage to former athletes related to college sports injuries. The coverage would extend to the age of 26, which would be consistent with the current Affordable Care Act requirements.
• Serve as the athlete’s primary medical coverage during college eligibility.
• Lower the cost of comprehensive basic injury, dental, vision and catastrophic healthcare coverage.
• Protect athletes from substantial and unexpected medical expenses and help a university’s ability to respond in those cases.
• Add additional support to athletes through family travel benefits, financial literacy and career counseling programs, lifetime scholarships, and compatible cost of attendance stipends.
“I’m not one that says you should pay a player to play college football, but I don’t think a college athlete should have to pay to attend the University of Oklahoma when you don’t have the type of benefits these players should have,” Watts said. “And it’s not just the time they’re at Oklahoma but after they’ve left. Stadiums have gotten bigger [and] weight rooms have gotten bigger [while] the benefits have largely stayed the same.”
Not only that, but the plan’s sponsors claim it will save almost $300 million. Who, I ask you, couldn’t get behind a proposal like that?
Do you really need to guess?
Where the NCAA stands on the “Student Athletes’ Enhanced Benefits Plan” is unclear and a frustrating issue for Watts Partners. Watts and Pruitt said they met in October 2014 with NCAA chief legal officer Donald Remy, NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline and NCAA director of travel and insurance Juanita Sheely to lay out the idea.
“Our basic response from them was, ‘Go build it and come back to us,’” Watts said. “They’ve been lukewarm at best. Tom really is the one that has turbo-charged it in the last six months because of his credibility and access to the ADs and conference commissioners. It doesn’t hurt having a Rhodes Scholar trumpeting your plan.”
The NCAA declined comment regarding the benefits plan being considered by athletic directors. Last year, Sheely defended the NCAA’s insurance coverage for athletes in this online article.
Earlier this year, the NCAA sent out a medical insurance survey to its members. The survey was described internally by the NCAA as a starting point to examine where coverage gaps exist before moving forward.
“We’re two years ahead of them and have done the kind of analysis that even their survey will not pick up the data for,” Pruitt said. “Their survey is mostly a cost accounting survey than it is looking at the actual benefits and policies that the schools require and how those interface with what the NCAA offers. We’ve already done all that.”
Some NCAA officials have privately expressed concern that the Watts Partner plan overlaps with what’s already being provided to athletes…
Yeah, can’t have any overlap. What would the rest of the student body think?