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MMA and health insurance

(Zach Kirk suffered a broken neck and paralysis last week in Iowa during an MMA fight. As if that wasn’t horrible enough, he – like most fighters from the lowest levels to the UFC – doesn’t have health insurance.)

There’s one unfortunate trend that follows stories of fighters amateur and pro getting seriously hurt in the sport: they don’t have medical insurance. Personally I have no idea how anyone gets into the cage knowing that a broken bone could cost you more than $5000 and you don’t even want to know what a brain bleed or broken neck will run you.

Imagine winning the ‘six figure UFC contract’ from the Ultimate Fighter, except instead of a contract it’s debt and you or your family will be paying it off much longer than the 3 years TUF contracts usually last. And unfortunately for you, this six figure contract isn’t just limping over the six figure mark, it’s comfortably in the middle somewhere or way higher if you have the misfortunte of living through your trauma and require rehab. Now you get an idea of how wrong things can go.

Well then, why not just get insurance? Because insurance companies are motherfuckers and unless you fall into their narrow definition of ‘viable moneymaker’ they won’t insure you. Maggie Hendricks gets the scoop on how many pro fighters are part of the uninsured group: Most of them.

You would be surprised at how many of your favorite fighters are in this group. I spoke with fighters who are under contract with the UFC, Strikeforce and Sengoku, and not one of them is insured. Their promotions have the decency of covering expenses from their injuries, but things like a flu shot, a routine annual exam and prescriptions are not covered. “If I get the flu, I suck it up,” one fighter said.

Because MMA is so dangerous, health insurance companies are not quick to underwrite fighters. Dana White has said in the past that the UFC covers fighters’ medical expenses, but that they are unable to get insurance for fighters because of MMA’s high injury rate.

Even if they are to apply for private insurance, just try to get a company to cover you when your medical records are full of broken bones and stretched ligaments, or your profession is “mixed martial artist.” Either the premiums are so high that a fighter can’t afford them, or the insurance companies won’t cover them at all.

A scary thought for all those working cushy office jobs with coverage who are also messing around with MMA: if something bad does happen and the insurance company looks into how you got hurt, there’s a good chance they’ll refuse your claim. Honestly, I’m amazed MMA has gotten off the ground in America when even a broken hand from beating the shit out of someone can run you a mystery amount from 200 to 6000 bucks.

I’m sure there’s a lot of you capitalists that nod your head yes yes and say of course this is how things work. You people are fucked up. It amazes me that health insurance companies are for-profit organizations that pad their bottom lines by denying the sick and dying. America has basically set up a system where the poor can’t afford coverage which makes them less healthy which kills them younger which sinks their family even further into insane medical debt.

Everyone’s always flipping out about universal health care and how it will bankrupt America and all that, and maybe it will. But an easier solution to improving everyone’s health and finances (that’s a good thing, right?) would be to pass a law stating that medical health insurers must be not-for-profit organizations. And no, not in a granola hippy everyone works for free and things will magically work out kind of way. Just in a non-evil ‘less people will die because the insurance company is focused on helping as many people as possible instead of giving those billions to rich stockholders’ way.