NCAA sets forth plan to extend protection for athletes with new Post-Eligibility Insurance Program

The Post-Eligibility Insurance Program, set to take effect Aug. 1, aims to offer extended coverage and support beyond an athlete’s eligibility period. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PHOENIX – For college athletes, incurring an injury while at a practice or in a game is one of the worst fears imaginable, and yet, it is incredibly common due to the nature of sports. And the effects of an injury can linger beyond an athlete’s eligibility.

At the NCAA Convention in Phoenix last month, the association previewed a new Post-Eligibility Insurance Program that will help address that issue, providing injured athletes additional support.

The panel, led by new NCAA Director of Insurance Liz Schneckenburger, opened the floor to athletic trainers, directors and commissioners to learn more about the upcoming program. It goes into effect on Aug. 1, and will be used in Division I, II and III.

It will be available for all athletes competing in a NCAA-sanctioned sport and, according to the NCAA, the annual premium is projected to cost the NCAA $26 million.

Unlike most current insurance policies that cover an athlete for two years from the date of injury, the new program will cover them for two years from their date of separation (graduating, leaving, exhausting eligibility, or transferring). This will not replace the current plan, but will give additional coverage for athletes who have passe the two-year mark under their school’s traditional insurance policy.

The post-eligibility insurance benefits max out at $90,000 per injury and include: hospital room and board, intensive care units, surgical charges for the primary performant, prescription drugs and ambulance services. Athletes also may receive up to $25,000 for mental health expenses for services that are needed as a result of an athletic injury. The mental health benefit falls within the $90,000 deductible, not in addition to it.

Throughout the panel, questions came rolling in as university staff and administrators tried to get an understanding of how the new policy will affect them. Dave Tomchek, program manager at A-G Administrators, an insurance company that provides student-accident coverage, said he went into the panel discussion with a lot of questions. He still has some.

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“I think, looking at the administration of the policy, there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Tomchek said.

One of the main worries expressed was if there would be an extra burden for athletic trainers, who are already overburdened, especially outside of Division I where training staffs are smaller. Schneckenburger acknowledged that there will need to be an ongoing conversation between the NCAA and athletic trainers to ensure that they are not overworked.

Tomchek, who was an athletic trainer for decades before joining A-G Administrators, pointed out that his notekeeping during that time was “severely inadequate in today’s world,” and the medical record systems across the NCAA needs to be enhanced.

Carrie Gardner, associate athletic director for Christopher Newport University (D-III), asked how the program might potentially be different for schools at each level of the NCAA. From Schneckenburger’s point of view, the nuances in operations between Division I, II and III may only come into play when they document the administrative burdens.

“I think from a policy perspective it will not be hard at all,” Schneckenburger said.

For comparison, Arizona State currently has more than 20 athletic trainers with most of them serving as a specific trainer for a single sport. Christopher Newport, on the other hand, only has six on the entire staff and all of them are tackling multiple sports at once.

Another looming question is how the NCAA will determine what costs should be considered under the mental health aspect of the policy.

“How do you connect a mental health injury to an athletic injury?” Gardner asked.

According to the NCAA, “For a mental health injury to be eligible for coverage under the post-eligibility insurance program, it must stem from an eligible, documented athletic injury.”

The policy has not been finalized yet, as Schneckenburger and the NCAA continue to work on the legal phrasing of the policy.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Jesse Brawders expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in educational studies. Brawders is a freelance esports commentator.