House OKs Concussion Insurance Program for Student Athletes

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Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Harlingen)

The national sport of Texas could get a little safer for kids under a bill passed today in the Texas House. Harlingen Democrat Eddie Lucio III’s House Bill 887 would create a pilot program for public schools to offer concussion insurance, but it stops well short of the protections Lucio had originally hoped for.

Lucio’s original bill would have limited full-contact drills and practice games in public schools to no more than an hour each week. Now he says he’d rather leave it up to the University Interscholastic League to handle those regulations. Lucio said his main safety concern is preventing chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in Texas youth.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. CTE can lead to headaches, loss of concentration, short-term memory loss, depression and suicidal thoughts. Recent studies show that small hits to the head, or subconcussive hits, can have a cumulative effect on the brain.

The UIL’s Medical Advisory Board recently recommended that schools limit team practice to 90 minutes of full-contact practice per week as a CTE prevention measure, as reported by the Dallas Morning News. That proposal still needs approval from the UIL Legislative Council and Education Commissioner Michael Williams before it can take effect. Some die-hard football fans don’t like the idea.

“The way concussions and health-related issues that derive from concussions manifest themselves are not immediate,” he told the Observer Tuesday. “Sometimes it’s six months or a year after the concussion has been discovered.”

Currently, public schools have insurance programs that will pay a nominal amount for any immediate injury that a kid sustains in school sports. This new, optional insurance program would help cover the cost of things like a visit to the neurologist for any traumatic brain damage caused by football or soccer at school.

“What the family will do is be able to buy in for a nominal fee—like $5—and get $25,000 worth of insurance that’s tailored to concussion-related health issues,” Lucio said.

Even if the Senate goes on to pass the bill, the pilot program would be funded by a rider in the budget bill’s “wish list” that may or may not get included in the final budget.

Lucio said on the floor that TEA would control most of the control of the program. The agency would decide where to try it out, and which private insurer would get the final bid for the contract. He said he’d look into creating a state-funded scholarship for low-income families that wished to participate.

“If the season ends or you graduate, [and] you have a health-related issue that’s derived from your participation in contact sports, you’re not covered,” Lucio told the Observer. “What this would do is give families broader coverage.”