The NFL health care debate

The NFL Players Association and the NFL have exchanged letters on the issue of health insurance coverage of NFL players in the event that the current CBA expires next March 3 without a new agreement.

NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen inquired as to “whether it is in fact true that the owners intend to cease paying the players’ health insurance premiums if there is no new CBA after March 30, 2011, and if so, whether the owners’ actions in that regard will be a ‘COBRA qualifying event’ which will enable the players to thereafter keep their coverage in place by paying the premiums themselves.”

In response, NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Litigation & Policy Dennis Curran pointed out that it is well known that an employer is not obligated to provide wages or salary, or to pay for continuation of wage-related benefits, for employees during a work stoppage. He noted that employers uniformly refrain from doing so in those circumstances.

Curran also said that for at least a decade it has been well established that participation in a strike or lockout is a COBRA-qualifying event. Under the federal law known as COBRA, affected employees are entitled to continue their employer-provided health insurance coverage but at their own or their union’s expense. For example, during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, the NHL’s players union secured substitute coverage for its members as its expense.

“Given how well settled these issues are, why has the union elected not to inform its members of their COBRA rights?,” Curran asked. “Through its public rhetoric about this issue, the union has created and exploited concern among its members and their families; it has done so knowing full well that no player or family member need suffer any loss of coverage.”

Curran called on the union “to clarify this issue with the players and correct the misimpression that its public rhetoric has created.”

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