Insurance of Olympic Proportions

Insurance of Olympic Proportions

During the Olympics in Sochi, we visited our son in Montana where many college students pursue their “45 degree” – a metaphor for some of the best downhill skiing in the country if you’re a university student. A couple of days before arriving in Bozeman, our son fell over a 40 foot cliff while avoiding a collision and landed on the rocks below. Gratefully , he walked away from the emergency room with only bruises. The incident reminded me, though, of all those elite athletes competing at the Olympics and the risks associated with a world-wide event.

According to a 2012 article posted on Kaiserhealthnews.org, elite athletes can access health insurance coverage through the United States Olympic Committee – but getting covered depends on how well you perform. The Elite Athlete Health insurance Program issues about 1,000 policies that are allocated among the various governing groups for specific sports (e.g. swimming, alpine skiing, badminton, track & field, etc.).

Athletes who win a spot on an Olympic roster get first crack at a policy. Those not selected for the team then are considered based on their world rankings or other similar performance-based criteria. Those who train full time but don’t qualify are on their own. Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, all Americans must now buy health insurance. One of the benefits for young competitors is the ability to remain on their parents’ health insurance policy until age 26 – incidentally, 26 is the average age of America’s 2014 Winter Olympics delegation.

Though these super-humans are generally the epitome of health, they are heavier than average users of health services. Nothing goes unnoticed while striving for the top of the heap. An ache, pain or cold can lower their performance and impede their constant training. Remember, more than one timed-event in Sochi was decided by hundreths of second.

Some athletic disciplines, such as gymnastics, offer individual coverage that insure against catastrophic events such as paralysis to avoid having the organization sued. Despite careful coaching and years of training, a body hurdling through the air, whether in a gym or down a mountain or over a cliff, is inherently risky.

A 2010 Newsweek article noted, however, that at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, those who came to watch the competition were the heaviset users of medical facilities during the weeks-long competitions. More than 75 percent of those requiring medical attention were spectators.

On the property/casualty side of insuring the Summer or Winter Olympics, just imagine everything that could go wrong and the financial consequences.

  • Thousands of visitors walking on snow and ice
  • No snow or too much snow
  • Safety threatening heat
  • High winds
  • Terrorism
  • Fire
  • Kidnap and ransom

Then, of course, there are all the travel challenges, corporate entertaining and sponsorship risks. Delays, cancellations, bad behavior and other variables all have a cost that most often can be insured – at a price.

For insurers and brokers, the Olympics are a field day of opportunity as well as an abyss of peril should things go wrong. Gratefully, the Sochi games appear to have come off without a major hitch. Most of the athletes returned home with their good health and some with medals; advertisers reached millions of viewers with product pitches from their sponsored athletes; and the world came a little closer together which helps reduce our global risks of conflict. All in all, it was a fabulous display of well-insured talent.

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