Players union rejects NFL's health care proposal

NEW YORK -- The players union has rejected a proposal from the NFL on long-term care for former players, saying the supplemental policy would exclude too many of them.

Miki Yara-Davis, senior director of benefits for the NFLPA, said Thursday that the union sent a letter to the league Wednesday rebuffing the proposal that was presented during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Yara-Davis said too many former players aged 50-75 would not pass a screening by TransAmerica, the insurance company that would underwrite the plan, because those players have pre-existing conditions from playing football.

"Let's not have a select few covered," she said. "It is our belief the company will reject them ... and a significant number of seemingly healthy players will not be covered."

The NFL said the policy would be available to 2,500 of 3,200 eligible players and their spouses.

"We expect, as does the insurer, that 80 percent or more of retired players in this group would qualify," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "This means that 2,500 retired players would qualify for hundreds of thousands of dollars in long-term care benefits that they do not receive today.

"The policy has many desirable features, including a 30-40 percent discount for both players and their spouses if the spouse chooses to purchase the same coverage given to the player."

George Martin, executive director of NFL Alumni, supports the policy, calling it a first starting point toward ensuring former players have necessary health care coverage.

"I am very disappointed," said Martin, the former defensive end of the New York Giants. "There's a cadre of former ballplayers who would have passed it with flying colors. This is a great opportunity to attain a supplemental policy."

Martin even sent a letter last month to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith encouraging "the prompt adoption" of the long-term care insurance.

But the union saw too many flaws, including the use of an insurance company; Yaras-Davis said the NFLPA never has done that before.

The plan would cover institutional care and home health care for up to four years, at $150 a day. The premium would be split by the league and the union, Yaras-Davis said.

"If you are, say, 59 years old, you know you have general health issues: high blood pressure, high cholesterol. It could be prostate cancer in that age group," she said. "With our group of players, we know they have some concussion-related mental health issues, brain trauma issues, heart-related problems. That's to say nothing of the players already permanently afflicted with arthritis.

"We are looking at a group that can easily be disqualified from coverage for many things, some of which are football-related and some of which are not."

Yaras-Davis stressed that such Hall of Fame players as John Mackey, who suffers from dementia, and Mike Haynes, who has battled prostate cancer, would not qualify for the coverage.

But the league noted that there are other policies to cover those medical issues.

"Any retiree disqualified due to dementia, ALS or another cognitive disorder will have access to the benefits of The 88 Plan," McCarthy said.

The 88 Plan, named after Mackey, provides funding from the NFL and the union to help with the care of players afflicted with dementia or related brain problems.

Martin, whose independent group is charged with confronting a variety of issues involving former players, hopes the union reconsiders.

"Why are you criticizing the source if at the end of day that source will provide an unprecedented benefit for a large group of players," he said. "It's not the wise approach; look at what that benefit will provide for the larger audience."

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Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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