WIAA concussion insurance policy helps 79 Wisconsin student-athletes in its first season

GREEN BAY, Wis. - While out of town on a business trip this last fall, Paige Baker got a text from her son’s JV soccer coach.

14-year-old Robbie had been injured at Ashwaubenon High School while playing for De Pere. And they believed he had a concussion. 

Baker’s husband picked up their son, who had suffered a concussion once in elementary school, when he fell and hit his head on a curb at school.

"He was disoriented, confused, a little bit nauseous, and of course those are all the classic signs of a possible head injury," Baker said, referring to Robbie's recent injury. "We were first going to just take him to urgent care, and they said no no no, head injury, we want you to go straight to the hospital. Well there’s a big financial difference between an emergency room bill and an urgent care bill."

That’s exactly what the WIAA doesn’t want parents worried about. Beginning Aug. 1, it has offered a concussion insurance policy to its 80,000 student-athletes at the middle and high school levels. 

The policy, called HeadStrong, acts as secondary insurance, kicking in after a family’s primary insurance pays for medical costs related to head injuries suffered during WIAA activities, like practice and games.

One in five high school athletes sustains a concussion, and 4 to 5 million concussions occur annually, with rising numbers among middle school athletes, according to Head Case, a Chicago organization that measures head impacts, records data and provides diagnostic tools to detect potential concussions.

With its new policy this fall, Wisconsin became the fourth state to provide a concussion insurance policy for its student-athletes. And according to the WIAA, 79 claims were made in the Badger State during the fall season, which is the one-third mark of the prep sports year.

Most of those claims were at the high school level, according to the WIAA’s executive director, Dave Anderson. 61 claims were filed for head-related injuries in football, 11 in boys soccer, three in volleyball and one among swimming and diving and cross country. 

All in all, HeadStrong saved an estimated $14,000 by working with preferred providers and then paid out $10,600 of $11,400 worth of charges not covered by families’ primary insurance or lack of insurance during the fall season, Anderson said.

While Baker's son ultimately did not have a concussion, HeadStrong still footed about 20 percent of that ER bill. His mom estimates their insurance paid about $1,000 of the bill, with HeadStrong contributing about $250.

The policy has a price tag of $1.50 per student-athlete for the WIAA, but it’s worth it if it provides a bump in athletics participation and accessibility down the road. 

"We really might not know for certain in a single snapshot of did this make a positive difference or not for a couple of years, and then those have to be followed over a period of time and see if you can figure out what was the cause," said Anderson.

And while 61 of those 79 fall season claims were from football athletes, the numbers are not yet in for HeadStrong's first winter sports season, which includes more high-contact sports like wrestling and hockey.

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