Everyone involved with roller derby is aware of the potential for injury. The rules include provisions for protective gear and assign responsibilities of safety to the officiating crew. But these mandates are for physical protection, not financial protection. Currently no officiating body requires primary medical coverage, but both USARS and the WFTDA require anyone on skates to carry their supplemental coverage. Any requirement of individual primary health coverage is left up to the individual teams/leagues.

Modern roller derby owes part of its success and proliferation to the fact it has attracted participants from all walks of life. This means skaters and referees alike come from various financial backgrounds. Some find it easier to afford, while others have to juggle finances between living expenses and the cost of derby. Often times for the latter group this means going  without health insurance. For residents of Canada, England, and other countries with a socialized health care system, the concern of paying for one’s own primary health insurance doesn’t exist as it does for their U.S. counterparts.

Insurance, at its fundamental root, is a transfer or risk. One party (the insured) pays another party (the insurance company) to accept the financial risk of a costly injury. By having many customers paying them to accept risk, and statistically knowing most will not use the insurance, an insurance company can offer to cover the cost of such an event at amount much less than the actual cost. To understand the financial impact of participating in a contact sport such as roller derby without proper coverage can have on a participant, let’s examine the some of the types of coverage:

Primary Medical Health Insurance: This is the health insurance most people are familiar with. In the U.S. it is usually purchased or provided through an employer-sponsored program. Plans with different levels of deductibles and coverage are available. The 80/20 type plan is most common –this is a plan in which the insured pays 20% of medical expenses they incur and the insurance company pays the other 80%. There are other ratios : 90/10, 70/30, and even HSA-eligible plans and most have an out-of-pocket maximum for the insured. HSA plans typically have a much higher deductible ($1500+) each calendar year, after which participants may be eligible for 100% or 90% coverage from the insurance company. Typically with higher deductible plans and higher responsibility plans such as a 70/30, the insured pays LESS premium because they are taking on more of the risk of having to cover the medical expenses.

Accidental Medical Coverage: This policy type is NOT designed to be used by a primary medical policy.

WFTDA Medical Accident Policy: This policy carries a very low benefit maximum ($25,000) with a $1,000 deductible for those with primary coverage, and a $3,000 for those without primary medical coverage. The deductible for either situation MUST be paid before this program would payout any benefit. This means an injured skater without primary medical coverage, who incurs $2,900 in medical expenses, will be 100% responsible for paying them herself.

USARS Derby Accident Policy: The USARS version has a benefit maximum double the WFTDA version, $50,000. However, this higher benefit comes with higher deductibles to the individual. Those with primary insurance have a deductible of $2,500 and those without primary coverage have a deductible of $7,500. Again, any claim made under this policy must have the deductible paid before benefits are paid out.

Supplemental Health Insurance: This type of coverage is typically purchased from companies such as AFLAC, BlueCross, MetLife, etc. There are various types of policies from which custom coverage can be tailored. The benefits can be in the form of cash payments to the insured, specific expense reimbursement, or income loss protection. Because this is such a broad type of insurance, it is hard to define typical policy parameters. However, the most common type of supplemental insurance is generally income replacement in lieu of primary disability insurance.

Disability Insurance: “Disability” is a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t ensure your ability to become disabled; it’s actually “paycheck insurance.” Disability insurance is most often obtained through an employer-sponsored program. Short-term disability typically pays from day of injury or sickness through 90 days. Long-term disability will usually pay the benefit from day 90 on. The benefit period of long-term coverage can vary. The most common benefit periods are 2 years, 5 years, and retirement age. Disability pays the insured a percentage of their income should they become incapacitated and unable to work. The percentage range for most plans is 50%-75%. Some plans have features that allow participants to purchase additional coverage. If an employer pays for the insurance, or the employee pays with pre-tax dollars, then the benefits the employee receives from the plan will be taxed as regular income. If the employee pays with after-tax dollars, then the benefit is received tax-free.

Other types of insurance such as life, accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D), cancer policies, etc. can be an integral part of one’s insurance planning. But for this discussion, we’re focusing on the types of coverage and policies listed above.

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who’s responsible for ensuring skaters and referees are properly insured?


So who’s responsible for ensuring skaters and referees are properly insured? Is it the governing body, the team, the individual, all the above, none?

The governing body: WFTDA or USARS cannot realistically impose such a requirement. At this time, participants in either organization are unpaid and considered voluntary participants. WFTDA/USARS can only require supplemental coverage, not primary.

The team/league: Local leagues can require primary coverage and restrict participation if proof isn’t given. Many teams have even sought to obtain a group health plan for their skaters to give skaters other options, but we aren’t aware of any that have been successful. Since roller derby is a voluntary participation event, insurers consider the individual derby teams no different than a team in a bowling league. To qualify for a group policy, the team would have to make the skaters employees of the organization.

The individual: Ultimately, this is where the responsibility of coverage lies. Each skater or referee must determine how they are going to be insured or accept the risk of participating in roller derby. The type of coverage available to them, combined with their personal financial resources will determine how much and what type of coverage they have.

As long as roller derby remains a voluntary, amateur, recreational sport, it’s going to be difficult to implement group plans at either the team or governing body level. Simply existing as an LLC or 501(c)3 doesn’t make a group eligible for a group policy. However, some insurers offer expanded group policies to business organizations such as a Chamber of Commerce. Teams/leagues may be able to join these, and their members may be able to obtain group coverage. We encourage you to explore what options may be available to you locally.

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some insurers offer expanded group policies … Teams/leagues may be able to join these


It comes down to the individual participant. It’s your responsibility to make sure you are properly covered. You may feel that it’s a choice and someone shouldn’t have to purchase coverage to participate in roller derby. You may believe that injury or death can happen “just walking down the street.” But, by simply playing roller derby, the likelihood of getting injured or disabled is *much *higher. The risk is much more serious for those who have families that rely on them for income, care, or both.

Insurance can’t prevent injury, but it sure can prevent serious financial hardships if you are unlucky enough to get injured. By now most people know about the 2007 accident that partially paralyzed Tahira “Tequila Mockingbird” Johnson. Her situation was made much worse because she did not have primary medical insurance, disability, or other coverage outside of the derby-related insurance through AIG (the then provider of USARS). Since her injury she has been relying on family, the derby community, and Medicaid for her health care and physical therapy. Tahira’s situation isn’t unique, and its a good example of how dramatically lack of proper insurance can impact your world. Participating in derby without primary insurance was a choice she made, and many continue to do so.

When skaters and referees step onto the track, they are assuming liability for themselves- “skate at your own risk”, if you will. However, when those without primary coverage, disability, or other insurance, are skating, it’s no longer “skate at your own risk,” it’s “skate at everyone’s risk.” The decision to play derby uninsured is a selfish one, because the risk of injury and associated potential loss of income (or possibly death) affects not only the player, but their family, friends, coworkers, and care providers. Not to mention the other skaters and refs who are on the same track who DO have coverage. It may not be a conscious one, but it is still selfish.

Participating in a contact team sport without primary insurance creates a transfer of risk to involuntary participants. Physicians and hospitals didn’t agree to care for you for free. Those who *are *insured don’t want to pay higher premiums because doctors and hospitals charge more to make up for losses caused by you. Taxpayers don’t want to pay for your treatments. Your family shouldn’t have to change jobs to care for you. Your teammates shouldn’t have to divert time and energy to fund-raising for you. Just because you really enjoy playing, you aren’t entitled to do so at the expense of others.

There are many alternative options for health care coverage: Nearly every state in the U.S. has a state-sponsored health insurance program, teams may be eligible to join business groups for a group rate, employer-sponsored programs (yours, spouse, partner), most colleges have a student insurance plan, parent’s health insurance, and trade associations have health insurance programs. Finding ideal coverage may be a challenge, and you may have to make sacrifices to find a suitable policy. It may come down to a “bare-bones” policy, typically referred to as a catastrophic policy, but even that is better than nothing.

In the end, it’s your decision, but remember it affects many other people than just you. If your finances force you to choose between being insured, not playing derby or playing derby uninsured, don’t be selfish; cheer from the suicide seats, knowing if skater knocks you out, you’re covered.

*This is not financial or insurance advice and is not represented as such. Consult with your personal insurance professional before making any purchases or decisions regarding insurance policies or planning.

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