Gold medal coverage? Not exactly.

July 27, 2012

Olympic athletes may perform superhuman feats on the field. But when they buy health insurance, they face a system just as weird and complicated as the rest of us do.

Olympic athletes get health insurance coverage through the Elite Athletes Health Insurance Plan, administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Or, at least some of them do: Each sport gets allotted a certain number of slots that, as Christian Torres explains, usually does not cover all those who prepare for the Olympic games:

The 1,000 or so policies offered by the USOC are divided among the national groups that govern individual sports – for summer, winter and Paralympic Games – and each group sets its own requirements for eligibility.

USA Swimming, for example, is allocated 56 policies. Olympic team members are given the first crack at the coverage, followed by the top-ranked swimmers in each event who did not make the team. Similarly, USA Badminton has five policies it first offers to its Olympic team members, with the next level of priority given to players with the highest Badminton World Federation ranking. USA Track and Field has 150 and first gives access to athletes in its top two performance tiers, which includes athletes who medaled at the 2008 Games or medaled at a recent major championship.

Some Olympic athletes who can't get onto the Elite Athletes plan could have a fallback, such a spouse's plan or coverage from a parent (the latter, Torres notes, tends to be more typical for gymnasts because they compete at a younger age).

The Elite Athlete's plan covers the basics, things like doctors' visits and preventive care. It does not, however, cover one thing really important to athletes: Big, expensive sports injuries. As I learned in a story two years back, nearly all athletes take out a second plan to cover any catastrophic injuries. Those are often offered through the specific sports teams. There again, the less experienced athletes can get a rawer deal: the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation varies its deductibles from $250 to $2,500, with the least accomplished athletes paying the highest amount.

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