A couple of weeks back, West Virginia University released a post-season list of injuries to its football team, and it was a lengthy list of some injuries that required surgery and rehabilitation.
Some of them were freshmen, such as running back Dustin Garrison, who incurred a knee injury that required ACL reconstruction that forced him to miss the Orange Bowl victory over Clemson. Others were players like nose guard Josh Taylor, whose West Virginia careers had ended.
Then this week basketball player Kevin Noreen went careening into the stands against Pitt and came away with a fractured ankle, something that requires medical care and rehabilitation. It was his second serious injury; last season ended prematurely with a knee injury that required surgery.
That led to an inquiry from a Times West Virginian reader the other day wanting to know one simple question.
Who pays the bills?
The assumption, of course, was that the school pays all the costs. After all, the injuries occurred while involved in team activities, and the school lists a long slate of team doctors. Surely WVU assumes the responsibility for the medical costs.
Turns out that’s not exactly the way it works.
Mike Parsons, the deputy director of athletics at WVU, explained just how the bills are covered, and it is somewhat surprising.
“The primary coverage for any student athlete who is injured is their own personal insurance,” Parsons said. “If there is anything beyond their personal coverage we have a secondary policy that covers it.”
So if your personal injury insurance pays 80 percent of the bill, the school’s coverage pays the rest.
Nothing comes out of the players’ pocket, but nothing comes out of the school’s pocket, either, although secondary health insurance for as many athletes as a school with 17 sports teams has can be pricey.
Parsons knows how this works from personal experience. His daughter, Kaitlin, was a soccer player at Morehead State University in Kentucky.
“You can imagine, once they get to the hospital what the bills can be. My daughter had an ACL, and it was expensive. My insurance covered it first, then the school picked up the balance,” he said.
Some schools, Parsons says, require their students to have personal injury coverage to enroll.
At West Virginia, if you don’t have insurance, the university’s plan will cover expenses in their entirety.
Of course, the injury must come during a game or a practice or, we assume, falling down a flight of stairs at the Puskar Center while heading from a meeting room to the weight room.
What about the team doctors you see listed program and media guide?
Do the athletes have to go to them for their treatment and surgery?
They are mostly precautionary in their roles and do not necessarily perform the medical work for the school, their contracts being for only a token fee of $1,000, according to Parsons.
“If they do the surgery, they bill the insurance, just like they would with any patient,” Parsons said.
Let’s take Garrison and Taylor, the freshman and the senior, and see how this works in a long-term injury. Garrison, of course, will be at the school for another three or four years. If the knee injury had been deemed so serious as to be career ending, the school would honor his scholarship for four years.
And if he required extension rehabilitation, the school would also pick up whatever part of it his insurance company didn’t cover through his own policy.
In some cases you see an injury that can be life altering and require lifelong treatment, a head injury or a spinal cord injury that causes paralysis. The school’s policy is supposed to handle even that beyond the player’s policy.
As for a player like Taylor, whose eligibility has expired, the school’s insurance would continue to cover what his doesn’t for as long as he needs treatment or rehabilitation from the injury.
“Of course, if it was an injury suffered horsing around at the swimming pool, it would not be covered by the school’s policy,” Parsons said.
West Virginia, as with virtually all schools, tries to create as safe an athletic atmosphere as possible with top-of-the-line equipment and preventive programs to see that athletes are strengthened and flexible. They do this in part, of course, because an injured athlete is unable to help the team, but also because of the costs of injuries.
“The more injuries you have, the more the premiums go up,” Parsons noted.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.