Why NFL Players Want Better Health Insurance

In America, there is no pass time as popular right now than football. During the season, every Sunday and Monday night devoted fans gather around their big screen TVs and watch 300-pound, fully grown men clash into each other at superhuman speeds. Playing in the NFL, the dominant organization for professional football, is the pinnacle achievement for any player who ever puts on the shoulder pads and helmet, but don’t you ever wonder how much health insurance costs for these players? It must be through the roof.

In the NFL, the best of the best compete against each other. That means the sport is at the apex of its violence and ferocity. So it’s no surprise that fans are a bit desensitized whenever they see a player get carted off the field. While current players receive medical coverage from their teams for on-field and some off-field related injuries, what happens to veterans that finish their careers but carry their long-term injuries for the rest of their lives? After all, the average career span of an NFL player is only 3.6 years.

Why NFL Players Need Health Insurance

For many spectators, the thought of a professional athlete needing help with medical insurance can sound ridiculous. Sure, they make millions of dollars a year, or at the very least a few hundred thousand, so they can just buy their own health coverage. What most people don’t realize is that health insurance for most NFL players is much more expensive than that of the average American, and that’s already expensive!

Injuries don’t just disappear when a player retires. These preexisting conditions linger and hamper former athletes for much longer, sometimes until they die. Not to mention some require ongoing treatment because they’re constantly living in pain. All of these factor in driving up insurance premiums. Here are a few examples of injury trends that fans need to consider when thinking about athletes:

  • Physical disabilities: If you don’t know who Earl Campbell is, you should. He was a legendary punisher back in his heyday. Now he serves as a living example of the perils of playing in the NFL. He can barely walk and sometimes needs the assistance of a wheelchair. He suffers from severe arthritis in his knees and debilitating back pain. Compare footage of Campbell now to those of his playing days and you can get an idea of reality players face in their post-career lives.
  • Mental disabilities: A silent culprit, but just as destructive, there has been growing awareness of the effects concussions have on players. Studies have shown that former NFL players have displayed a higher rate of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other mentally disabling handicaps stemming from injuries during their playing days. Don’t believe it? Just watch a typical football game and see how hard these players actually get hit.
  • Career-ending injuries: NFL players face the possibility of a career-ending injury during every play. While the higher profile players are often the only ones we notice, there are actually a lot of players we’ve never heard of that suffer serious injuries that could derail their careers. Kevin Everett, for example, suffered a life-threatening injury in the first game of his second year in the NFL. He fractured and dislocated his spine during a routine play. Thanks to quick acting doctors on the field and advanced medical treatment, Willis was able to eventually walk again. The situation could have been much more grim, however, if things had not gone as perfectly as they had in treating the injury.

How NFL Players Find Coverage

While active players on rosters are medically covered by their respective NFL franchises, retired players who are vested after four years of playing in the league receive five years of health coverage similar, if not identical, to what they received during their playing days. After five years have passed, former players are responsible for finding their own health coverage, whether by buying their own policy or through one offered by a new employer.

According to the NFL Players Association, which serves as the labor union for players, those who are not vested or are exhausting their post-career coverage have three options:

  • Employer coverage: Former players that have switched careers can use medical coverage provided by their current employers. This provides players with federal protection of a group insurance plan and avoids headaches of underwriting for preexisting injuries.
  • COBRA: Retired players can also elect to purchase COBRA insurance, which extends their medical benefits at a group rate plus administration fees.
  • Individual insurance policy: The least desired option. Players seeking private health insurance could be subject to higher premiums due to their preexisting injuries, current health, age and other factors. While rates vary from many factors such as location, individual, etc., there’s no doubt that obtaining an affordable rate could be quite a challenge.

Change To Athlete Health Coverage On The Horizon

The Collective Bargaining Agreement the NFLPA has with franchise owners is set to expire at the end of the season. There is a real chance that NFL players could go on strike. One of the underlying issues is that players want better health coverage because they are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers they could face in retirement.

While superstars like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady may not necessarily need the financial assistance in their post-career lives, there are literally thousands of current and former NFL players that do.