The Russian Roulette of Training in the Dawn of Obamacare

Fightland Blog

By Michael Hresko

Despite the recent string of nasty leg injuries during UFC events, the injury rate in mixed martial arts is relatively low. Cheerleading is just one of the sports far more dangerous, statistically speaking. Luckily, during the modern age of regulated MMA, all fighters are covered by a medical insurance policy while in the cage. State commissions require all events to provide medical policies that can range from 5,000 to 100,000 dollars for each fighter in case of injury. As important and appropriate as this is, the truth is that martial artists are most likely to get hurt outside of the cage.

In 2011, the UFC implemented health insurance that specifically covers injury sustained during training for all fighters under contract. It was a big deal, as most athletes on their injury list are there because of something that happened getting ready to do their jobs, and not during the brief moments throwing down on pay-per-view. Look no further than the Venezuelan Vixen, who suffered this twisted fate when her sparing partner surprise attacked her.This is great and all for those at the top, but generally speaking, the majority of full-time fighters out there (young males age 18-35) are still boxing and grappling without insurance coverage.

The college wrestler transitioning to MMA after graduation and subsequently falls off their parent’s policy, usually can’t stomach paying a monthly premium on top of his gym membership. It’s a common tale: a young artist commits to their craft full-time and loses the health insurance provided by a “real” job. Still, being the risk-takers they are, fighters continue to train knowing that there is a chance of a career-ending injury. It results in a type of Russian roulette. Each time the uninsured step on the mat, they pull the trigger of the revolver. Chances are, the cylinder will click against the empty chamber and the fighter will walk out unscathed, but there is always the possibility of a live round going off.

At the end of this month, all of the risky business ends as the country approaches the deadline of the Affordable Care Act. For the first time ever, everyone has to be covered, making injuries across-the-board more affordable to fix. Despite what your political opinion on the matter may be, it’s here, it’s real, and over five million people have already enrolled through the ACA marketplace – one million in California alone.

The Obama administration thinks healthcare should cost 8% of your income, and says that everyone making less than 400% of the Federal Poverty Line (which equals $46,680 per year) will save money in the long run. Some people under 30 or living with very low-income may qualify for Medicaid or ‘Catastrophic’ plans with minimal monthly fees. For the most part, the average MMA fighter is looking at purchasing a plan that will cost somewhere around $200 a month, depending on the level of insurance – a real bummer for those rolling the dice and currently not paying.

Hospital rates are at an all time high, and simple procedures can cost several thousand dollars after marked-up supplies and facility fees are added on to the bill. The good news is that the maximum out-of-pocket cost for any individual in 2014 is set at $6,350. This means that all the amateur fighters sidelined for financial limitations might now have the means to come off the bench. An athlete who previously could not afford an expensive knee surgery might now be able to. Getting your face stitched-up in the ER will cost the same amount as it always did, even with your shiny new state-subsidized healthcare, but anything major is most certainly going to approach that limit.