To: Jack Jablonski
Everyone knows what happened to you on December 30 during a junior varsity hockey game at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center. Nobody knows what the future will hold for you, but based on your determination, the support of your family and friends, and the heartfelt best wishes from the broader hockey community, I imagine you will surprise. Your sacrifice and courage have also made an impact on the game.
The governing bodies of youth and high school hockey have already made three changes in the rules: The penalties for checking from behind, boarding, and contact to the head all have increased significantly. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) adopted these changes with unprecedented speed and has posted a video on their website showing the appropriate hockey behavior (mshsl.org/mshsl/hockeyvideo.asp). All of these changes have been greeted as long overdue by the grand guru of hockey, Jack Blatherwick, and the unofficial spokesman for the State of Hockey, Lou Nanne.
And you motivated people to take “Jack’s Pledge,” by which players and teams promise to play hockey for the sport and not to injure and intimidate. More than 17,000 hockey players from around North America and Europe have already taken the pledge (jackspledge.com).
Ice hockey is classified as a “collision sport” by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and statistics indicate that ice hockey injuries ranked third after basketball and soccer in emergency room visits. As one might expect, almost all serious hockey injuries are the result of collisions occurring in games, not practice. One of the leading experts in ice hockey injuries, Michael Stuart, chief medical officer for USA Hockey and vice chair of orthopedic surgery at the Mayo Clinic, has noted that the risk of spinal cord injury appears to be increasing and is higher in hockey than in football. Dr. Stuart has written for some time about the necessity of strictly enforcing rules regarding checking from behind, charging, and boarding. All of these are warnings that should have been heeded earlier, but will be now.
Your injury, and your journey from the injury, highlight another issue: catastrophic insurance coverage. Currently, member schools of the Minnesota State High School League are provided with catastrophic insurance coverage for all students in grades 7–12 who participate in MSHSL-approved interscholastic athletic and fine arts activities. According to its website (mshsl.org), since 1984, the league has paid more than $5.6 million for this insurance. A summary of the insurance plan indicates that there is a lifetime plan maximum of $2 million, subject to a $50,000 deductible, and a limit on extended care facility spending of $365,000 per year (with a home health care maximum of $125,000 per year). Injuries so catastrophic that they exhaust these lifetime limits are rare.
I ran some of my questions by Scott Lynch, chief legal officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. He pointed out to me that the Affordable Care Act, although not fully in effect for a couple of years, outlawed lifetime limits in any health plan or insurance policy issued or renewed after September 2010. Annual limits are to be gradually phased out before 2014. But I note two precautions; first, that legislation has an uncertain judicial and legislative future; and second, insurance companies in general are still allowed to rely upon coverage limits. And what happens to an uninsured student?
I think it is time for the State of Minnesota, the State of Hockey, to be the insurer of last resort for catastrophic injuries suffered by all young students engaged in high school–approved activities. Most of my insurance contacts tell me that providing excess coverage is generally very inexpensive; it is first-dollar coverage that is really expensive. And in this case, the state could establish excess coverage with a deductible equal to that already provided by the Minnesota State High School League. This type of excess coverage would be affordable and, one hopes, rarely needed. The thought of a family pulling together to aid a catastrophically injured member, while at the same time facing an uncertain catastrophic financial issue many years down the road, is something that Minnesota should not tolerate.
Let’s call upon our State of Hockey to assemble the relevant information and establish an excess catastrophic loss policy for every student in Minnesota. Call it the Jablonski Law.
Vance K. Opperman,
A Hockey Dad