Private high schools would not be required to have catastrophic health insurance coverage for sports if a revamped state House bill becomes law.
The Senate Rules and Operations committee approved House Bill 79 on Thursday, sending it for a potential Senate floor vote next week.
The bill was subjected to the gut-and-replace strategy during Wednesday’s Senate Education/Higher Education committee to insert the catastrophic health insurance language.
As part of the 2021 House Bill 91 compromise with NC High School Athletic Association, public and private high schools with athletic teams were required — starting with the 2022-23 academic year — to get catastrophic health insurance through the NC Insurance Department.
According to legislative staff at the Rules and Operations meeting, HB79 would remove the mandate that private schools to buy catastrophic health insurance.
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Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, and primary sponsor of the revamped HB79, told the Rules and Operations committee the new language provides “clarifications for high school athletic insurance so that schools may purchase it on their own, so they can have fun and play ball , and that’s about it.”
On Wednesday, Sawyer told the Education committee that “what we did is give local control to local schools so they can purchase their own insurance.”
According to Sadler Sports and Recreation Insurance of Columbia, SC, demand for catastrophe accident insurance increased in the 1980s “as a tool to deter lawsuits arising from player injuries.” The insurer said it provides this type of coverage to several state high school athletic associations.
“Athletes Suffering Severe Brain Injury or Exhaustion Often Injury Injury Medical Bills, on-going family care, rehabilitation, home modifications and loss of future income on the part of athlete,” Sadler said.
“Catastrophe/cash accident policies evolved to provide significant benefits to injured athletes and their families in an effort to deter litigation.”
While HB79 requires providing catastrophic insurance, the bill would allow public schools to purchase other accident insurance for students who participate in interscholastic sports. The accident insurance would fill some of the gap between typical health insurance coverage and catastrophic coverage.
The state Insurance Department said in a statement Thursday that HB79 serves to “clarify that public schools are required to purchase catastrophic insurance for high school athletes.
“We continue to engage with legislators to make sure we are able to provide catastrophic insurance at the most affordable price. Any public school district or charter school wishes to participate in the program offered by the department should reach out to the Risk Management Division.”
The NC Independent Schools Athletic Association could not be immediately reached for comment on HB79.
Affected by HB79 are interscholastic athletic activities that are authorized, sanctioned or scheduled by a public school or by an administering organization, including school-supervised practice, game-related activity and related travel.
Those covered by HB79 would be students or school personnel participating in or responsible for covered activities.
Those premiums would be paid for by the schools. The Insurance commissioner would be able to purchase the insurance from insurances eligible to do business in the state. The accident insurance could be purchased through the insurance department, or through other providers.
Sawyer was one of three co-primary sponsors of House Bill 91, titled “Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics,” which was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on Nov. 23.
HB91 edited the NCHSAA’s oversight authority and changed how high- and middle-school sports are managed in North Carolina. That included the section on the requirement of catastrophic health insurance by “participating schools.”
The NCHSAA and State Board of Education signed a memorandum of understanding on March 14 under which the association remains in control of public middle- and high-school sports through at least the end of the 2026-27 school year.
Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, said Wednesday the NCHSAA had waived the $3-per-student insurance cost, the News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
Sawyer said there was no guarantee the NCHSAA would have continued the insurance waiver. She said schools could potentially pay only $1 per student if they got their insurance from the state.
“This again is giving schools the right to take their athletics and do as they wish,” Sawyer said Wednesday.
Sadler said that individuals schools “can easily find general liability insurance to cover athletic injuries.”