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Survey: Most DI schools provide injury coverage

Results show few out-of-pocket expenses for DI student-athletes

Download the Student-Athelete Insurance Coverage Findings

A new survey conducted this spring indicates that a majority of Division I institutions provide insurance coverage to their student-athletes for athletically related injuries and that student-athletes at relatively few schools incur out-of-pocket injury costs.

The NCAA recently sent the survey, which asked about schools’ insurance coverage for student-athletes, to all head athletic trainers in Division I. With the help of conference offices, the survey received 232 responses, which account for 70 percent of all Division I institutions. The results have helped determine what coverage exists – and for how long – and what student-athletes and their families are paying for out of pocket. That data will inform future discussions about student-athlete insurance among members and could potentially steer policy changes.

“It is a fundamental responsibility of Division I institutions to care for student-athletes’ overall well-being,” said Jim Phillips, athletics director at Northwestern University and chair of the Division I Council.

NCAA bylaws require that student-athletes be covered by an insurance policy for athletically related injuries with coverage limits of at least $90,000 – at which point the NCAA catastrophic injury insurance program provides coverage. But they do not require that schools offer insurance. Policies can be provided either through the school, a parent or guardian’s policy, or a policy that student-athletes acquire themselves.

The survey findings, though, indicate that schools are doing much more than meeting the legislated minimum requirements. Eighty-four percent of Division I schools indicated that they pay all the costs of athletically related injuries even if a student does not have his or her own primary insurance. Of the 16 percent of schools that reported not fully covering the cost of athletically related injuries, student-athletes often incurred out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions or when they sought a second opinion for an injury. And a vast majority of insurance programs for college athletes – 93 percent – are managed through athletics departments.

Only 6 percent of respondents indicated that their institutions require student-athletes to provide their own coverage, and 70 percent noted that they provide insurance for their athletes who do not have their own primary coverage.

“Medical concerns are very important issues in intercollegiate athletics, and we are pleased that our member institutions are taking such a proactive approach to covering student-athletes,” said Tom Douple, commissioner of The Summit League. Each of the conference’s nine schools took part in the survey.

Nearly half of survey respondents (44 percent) indicated that they do not provide coverage for illnesses, injuries or other medical costs not related to athletics. And while the NCAA’s catastrophic injury policy covers the lifetime cost of the most traumatic events, such as severe spinal cord injuries, 31 percent of schools cover costs incurred after students leave school or exhaust their eligibility if the costs were due to an athletics injury while they were student-athletes.

The catastrophic injury policy provides up to $20 million in lifetime benefits – medical expenses, monthly disability cash payments, funds to modify homes to accommodate wheelchairs, etc. – to student-athletes who become totally disabled while practicing or playing. However, athletes do not have to be permanently disabled to receive benefits from the policy; they simply need to meet the $90,000 deductible in the wake of any injury to become eligible. In those instances, the initial $90,000 would have been covered by a personal policy, one provided by the student-athlete’s school or the NCAA’s participant accident program, which covers costs for any injuries suffered during championship events. 

While the survey indicated that Division I schools are doing a great deal to provide coverage for college athletes while they are in school, with additional security from the NCAA catastrophic policy and its substantial lifetime coverage for student-athletes with severe injuries, Phillips and others in Division I are committed to doing more for student-athletes.

“There is more work to be done in this regard, well beyond athletically related injuries, and finding the appropriate levels of care is a top priority,” Phillips said. “Graduation does not end the relationship with, nor responsibility to, our student-athletes. This topic, and other well-being issues, will be deliberated at the highest levels of college athletics as we work toward a better – and more appropriate – destination.”