Cost of Competition

The High Cost of Insuring Student Athletes

Some university premiums are more than double last year's expense, but students may find themselves uninsured anyway.
By: | July 7, 2014 • 3 min read

Current deliberations by the South Dakota Board of Regents highlight the increasing cost of insuring intercollegiate student-athletes.

Within the next couple of weeks, the board will address the difficult issue of providing secondary insurance coverage for student athletes at the six state public universities, according to spokesperson Kayla Bastian.


Whatever the regents decide, it will be expensive. The six universities are facing an increase that more than doubles the secondary insurance provided to NCAA school athletes, which covers gaps in the primary insurance paid by the athletes and their families.

The regents paid a total of $618,460 in premiums in 2013 for their athlete policies. The projected total for 2014 premiums is nearly $1.4 million. A $3,000 deductible would lower the cost to slightly under $1 million.

Secondary insurance covers practice, play and travel to and from for athletes, said Bryan Cronen, president of Kalamazoo, Mich.-based First Agency, which provides more than 200 intercollegiate athletic programs with secondary insurance. It does not include student-led practices, individual workouts and conditioning sessions outside of the official season.

Secondary policies only cover athletic injuries that occur during the official NCAA 18/19 weeks of practice and playing season, he said.

“These policies do not cover any health-related issues,” Cronen added. “It doesn’t cover flu or a cold. It’s only going to pay for an athletic-related injury.”

Primary health insurance is via a student-athlete’s own personal insurance through Mom and Dad, he said.


“Secondary insurance policies are purchased through agencies such as ours,” said Cronen. “The intent is to pick up all of the out-of-pocket costs after the athlete’s primary insurance.”

Like other NCAA schools, Florida Gulf Coast University requires that all of its student-athletes have primary insurance.

According to Brittany Loring, assistant athletic trainer/insurance coordinator at FGCU, the intent is “to avoid out-of-pocket expenses in the event of an injury, as a condition to participation in intercollegiate athletics.”

The policy must have full network benefits that are payable in Florida and more specifically, Southwest Florida.

Loring said that it is also important to note that any lapse of primary coverage can lead to prior injuries being classified as pre-existing conditions and thus may not be covered. Sports-related injuries are those that occur during a university sanctioned intercollegiate athletic event and under the direct supervision of a member of the FGCU coaching staff.

The NCAA sponsors a catastrophic injury insurance program covering a student-athlete who is catastrophically injured while participating in an intercollegiate event.

The policy has a $90,000 deductible and provides policy benefits in excess of any valid and collectible insurance.

This program is all the more important in the light of the concussion lawsuits brought by former National Football League players and the implications for similar injuries to intercollegiate athletes.

The most glaring problem in the NCAA’s health care is that once a student-athlete is no longer enrolled in a university program and under scholarship, they no longer receive any medical help from their school, experts said. That is a big problem for former athletes who have injuries that limit mobility, affect quality of life and impede the ability to find jobs.

Another problem for intercollegiate student-athletes is that NCAA scholarships are renewable on a one-year basis. This allows coaches to refuse to renew the scholarship of a player who isn’t healthy enough to play.


According to the NCAA, an athletic institution must provide a secondary policy covering student athletes or they must certify that each athlete has insurance coverage.

“So there are some schools,” Cronen said, “that don’t buy a secondary insurance policy and thus they have to go through a certification process to make sure all their athletes are covered up to $90,000 per claim, which is where the catastrophic coverage starts for NCAA schools.”

Steve Yahn was a freelance writer based in New York. He had more than 40 years of financial reporting and editing experience. Comments can be directed to [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]