Nolan Harrison, the Senior Director of Former Player Services, recently wrote an article about health care for former players that you can read at this link: Health Insurance Redefined for Former NFL Players.
Nolan served on the NFLPA’s executive committee from 2000-02 and after retiring from the NFL he also served on the NFLPA former players board of directors and was the chairman of the health committee.
In his article, Nolan says “Depending on when they played, some NFL Retirees can obtain a few years of health coverage through the NFL immediately after leaving the game. If today’s players complete three seasons in the league, they can receive five years of health insurance when they retire. The trouble is, some health issues do not manifest until several years later, and players who complete less than three seasons are on their own for coverage.”
“Depending on when they played” - is the key phrase in that statement. The NFLPA has been drawing the lines on who gets benefits for quite some time. They are deciding who the haves and the have-nots are in the health care benefit system they have established.
Nolan goes on to say that “Affordable coverage is now accessible to the 17,000 NFL Retirees estimated to be alive today, but many of them do not know where to start. It is important for these men to know there are resources to help them obtain the medical insurance they need.”
I think most players know where the resources are. The “real trouble" is this: The resources and benefits have only been allocated to a select group of players that were covered in the 2006 and 2011 CBA’s.
Nolan forgot to mention a few things about health care for former players in his article.
First of all, he forgot to say that the current CBA gives any vested player who retires after 2011, the ability to stay on the NFL's group health insurance policy - just as long as they continue to pay the premiums. I wrote about this benefit at this link: Current NFL Players Offered Lifetime Medical
In the 2011 CBA, this new benefit is referred to as the Extended Post-Career Medical and Dental Benefits. After a vested former player’s five (5) free years of health insurance have been exhausted, they can continue their coverage under the NFL’s group health insurance program. This insurance is only for former players who are vested and have a credited season in 2011 or thereafter, It’s COBRA coverage for life!
The benefits offered under this health insurance policy are very generous and you would be hard pressed to find another insurance program that comes anywhere close to offering the same benefits and services for the same price - and that’s because the purchasing power of the NFL is much better than individual players can get through the ACA (Affordable Care Act) commonly referred to as “Obamacare”. Nolan and the NFLPA have been actively soliciting former players to buy health insurance available under the ACA by using a company called "Working America Health Care".
In his article, Nolan also fails to mention that the more recent retirees also have another benefit called the “Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account” that was established in the 2006 CBA. The Plan has over $300 Million in assets that are payable to a select group of former players. It can be used to pay for the premiums of any health insurance policy and any out-of-pocket healthcare expenses like prescriptions and over-the-counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, or even a top-of-the-line jacuzzi to help with aches and pains, or a Segway to help them get around, or just about anything else that can be considered a health-related item.
A player is eligible for the HRA Plan if he earned a credited season under the Bert Bell / Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan for 2006, or for any year after that and has a total of three or more credited seasons, or his last credited season was either 2004 or 2005 and he had a total of eight or more credited seasons. Players receive $25,000 for each of their credited seasons ($30,000 for the League years 2016-2020).
To give you an idea of just how beneficial this can be for certain former players, a 10 year player who played from 1995 to 2004 will have approximately $250,000 in their account. The maximum amount a player can accrue in their Health Reimbursement Account is $350,000. Again, this can be used for premiums, co-pays, or just about anything else that is health related.
Don't get me wrong, I think it’s fantastic that some former players have access to five free years of health insurance after retiring - and then have access to lifetime health insurance through the NFL Group Health Insurance Policy - and then are able to pay the premiums for that policy with the money in their Gene Upshaw Health Reimbursement Account. But why did the NFLPA conveniently forget to mention all these former player benefits in their promotion of health care for former players? Mainly because most former players are not eligible for those benefits.
Instead of working to include us in those benefit plans, they are pushing the older former players to get health insurance coverage under the ACA - at our own expense.
Check out the flyer they are using to advertise the company that will help us navigate the health care waters and bring us to the promised land…..
I wonder how much the organization “Working America Health Care” had to pay the NFLPA to get their endorsement and their recommendation?
The NFLPA has defined exactly who receives health care benefits in the last two CBA's and I’m sorry to say that most of the former players reading this article are not included - or should I say covered. Nolan and the NFLPA will point you in the right direction, but other than that, you’re on your own!
Back when the NFLPA was negotiating the 2006 CBA , Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure wrote an open letter to Drew Brees, where he said “Not one single player, before 1993, had 5 free years of health insurance after they retired, not to mention coverage for their wives! You want retired players to be on your team. You gotta be kidding me! On every team that I ever played on, we all had the same game plan. Well, your game plan is a lot different than the one most retired players want to see executed. Could one of the reasons you want us to join the “Team” be because the NFL owners have discontinued their contributions to your Annuity Plan, Second Career Savings Plan, Tuition Assistance Plan, Health Reimbursement Account? Well, if you want us to fight for your benefits, you better start fighting for ours!”
If the NFLPA really wants to help redefine health insurance for former players, they should start by working to include more former players in their benefit plans.
I’ve been very fortunate to have health insurance coverage for me and my family (through my employers) for the past 40 years - and I would bet that there are a number of former players that can say the same thing. But, what about the guys that didn’t have coverage before Obamacare? The guys that went bankrupt, or had to spend their life savings on an illness, an injury, or a hospital stay - like the ones mentioned in the NFLPA flyer? And why can't the current players (members of the NFLPA) that have benefitted from our labor strikes and our anti-trust lawsuits do something about the discrepancy in our former player health care benefit system.
Chris Rock said something on an episode of Real Time with Bill Maher that reveals - in dramatic fashion - how important it is to have good health care insurance:
“I had my father get sick when I was 22. And I was poor, alright. And my father had an ulcer, and it exploded and you know all these toxins get in your blood. And basically, my father died, whatever, 50 days after his ulcer. So I had a father get sick while I was poor. My mother got sick when I was rich. And my mother, you know... I don't really want to get into it, but my mother was sicker than my father. And my mother's alive. My mother's fine, OK? I remember going to the hospital to see my mother and wondering, 'Was I in the right place?' Like, this was a hotel. Like it had a concierge, man. People don't understand... if the average person really knew the discrepancy in the health care system, there'd be riots in the streets, OK? They would burn this mother f***er down!"
Now you know what B.T.M.F.D. stands for!
There’s a huge discrepancy in the retired player health care benefit system. The NFL owners and many of today's players are wealthy enough to help out their less fortunate brethren in the next CBA or maybe even now, because there may still be money left in the Joint Contribution Fund. In the 2011 CBA, the NFL Players Association negotiated a $240 million pool of money under the Joint Contribution Fund to provide programs, benefits and services for former players. What those services would be - and how they would be delivered - was, and still is, solely at the discretion of the NFLPA. To date those services and benefits have been given mostly to the post 1993 players via the "Trust" program and the pension increase that was given to former players just last year. Good for them - now it's time to share some of the wealth with the older retired players.
I think the NFLPA believes that the "Legacy Benefit" was good enough to pacify the pre-1993 players and balance out any inequality that existed in the pension plan. But as we all know, it did not go nearly far enough in addressing our concerns and that is why the wives of Hall of Fame players have called on the NFL and NFLPA to meet with them and talk about the issues. Time is running out for the pre '93 generation of NFL players and the "Battle for Benefits" is starting to heat up.
Since 1993, the NFLPA has never been flagged for piling on benefits like the Annuity Plan, Second Career Savings Plan, Tuition Assistance Plan, Severance Plan, and many others that are too numerous to mention in this article. The post-1992 players were also the beneficiaries of free agency and with it, the enormous escalation of salaries. So, when it comes to the health and well being of former players, they have the power to address these issues and tell the head of the Union, DeMaurice Smith, what they want him to negotiate and push for in the CBA. At the same time, Mr. Smith wants to make sure he continues to bring home the bacon for active players and - in doing so - stay in their good graces. That's how you get re-elected and maintain the status quo.
While we are talking about health issues, I would like to remind the active players that it was the older generation of players and our advocacy over the concussion issue that was the real catalyst in making the game safer for them, so now it's time for them to acknowledge that and start bringing home the bacon for the guys that built the NFLPA and were blackballed, waived and hung out to dry for their union activities. Not one single player has had to walk a picket line for 28 years! As they would say over at ESPN........C'MON MAN!
The NFLPA has a real nice slogan that says “One Team” and it signifies that all active and retired players are united. Unfortunately, on the issue of health insurance and health care benefits, nothing could be further from the truth. On behalf of the older generation of former players, I would like to borrow a line from Shakespeare and say, “It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
If the active players and the current NFLPA administration won't work to help the older generation of players by providing money to purchase health care and pay for other health care costs, and not just give us a point - in what they consider to be the right direction - then maybe it’s time for us to B.T.M.F.D!
Just in case anyone might be thinking about taking that literally, I do not condone violence, or playing with fire. I received third degree burns from playing with firecrackers when I was just 8 years old. I was in the hospital for two months and required a skin graph for the wound on my left hip. I would not wish that upon my worst enemy.
Thank God my family had health insurance!