Ahead of a Senate inquiry into concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports, a Monash University expert is calling out insurance arrangements that are inadequate, inequitable and (in some cases) may be operating in breach of workers’ compensation laws.
Over the years, the focus of injury from sporting contests has broadened from immediate physical health risks to include long-term and long-latency injuries caused by concussions and repeated head trauma, but insurance and compensation for those injuries has been largely ignored.
According to Dr Eric Windholz, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at Monash University, ‘A successful sport injury management program should focus not only on prevention and rehabilitation, but also on how we insure and pay for that rehabilitation, and compensate and support injured players.
‘Insurance and compensation arrangements for professional players vary according to the nature of the sport, the financial capacity of its governing bodies, and the player’s bargaining power,’ he said.
Inadequacy of insurance arrangements
Dr Windholz has made a submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee inquiry into concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports, arguing that the current insurance and compensation arrangements:
- are inadequate for long-term and long-latency injuries;
- are inequitable for players and taxpayers; and
- (in some cases) may operate in breach of workers’ compensation legislation.
‘Contractual injury payment schemes compensating for lost income have maximum payment periods, and cease on contract expiry,’ said Dr Windholz. ‘They are unlikely to cover long-term and long-latency injuries arising from concussions and repeated head trauma.
‘Sporting organisations generally require players to take out top level private health insurance, with the league or club paying any excess medical costs (after private health insurance and Medicare) associated with the treatment of injuries incurred training or playing in accordance with the contract,’ he said.
‘The contributions of sporting organisations towards insurance or any excess generally lapse either on contract expiry or some short period thereafter. As a result, employer supported private health insurance does not adequately support the treatment of long-term and long-latency injuries arising from concussions and repeated head trauma.’
Inequitable for players
Dr Windholz says it’s an essential tenet of modern society that people who are injured at work should be appropriately compensated and supported.
‘In other professions, workers’ compensation plays a key role. Sport is an exception,’ he said.
‘Exemptions from State and Territory workers’ compensation schemes exist for professional players. This stands in stark contrast to the situation under State and Territory work health and safety laws.
‘When it comes to work health and safety law, professional sports enjoy no special privileges,’ said Dr Windholz.
In the absence of workers’ compensation insurance, the primary medical insurance obligation is transferred to Medicare which normally doesn’t cover medical expenses incurred by employees injured undertaking work-related activities.
‘This is inequitable for taxpayers because it shifts the primary medical insurance obligation from the employer sporting organisation (and state governments) to taxpayers (and the federal government),’ said Dr Windholz.
‘Insurance and compensation arrangements for professional players should be no less than that provided to other Australian workers,’ he said.