Potential lockout causes health care concerns

DALLAS -- When Dawn Neufeld first heard there was a possibility of an NFL lockout, she immediately thought about insurance. She worried about the cost, about what it might mean to pay out of pocket for care for her husband, Ryan, a retired NFL player whose back pain is so bad, he could barely stand up to watch a Cowboys game this season.

She thought about their 6-year-old son, Will, who has autism, and 3-year-old daughter, Bryn, who seems to think she is invincible, teetering around the house in her mommy's high heels.

"To say it was something that caused me stress is an understatement," said Neufeld, an attorney and a cast member on the show "Football Wives."

Neufeld said that she found out a few weeks ago that insurance for retired players -- the plan she and her family are under -- will continue unchanged. It was a relief for her, but Neufeld said the uncertainty has been tough for her and other NFL wives.

"It's a very big concern, if you ask wives," Neufeld said.

The NFL sent a letter to clarify that current players will be able to continue their insurance plan in the event of the lockout through the federal COBRA program. A family can pay the portion of insurance usually contributed by the employer and continue to receive benefits for 18 months.

In the letter to NFL agents, which is excerpted on the league's website, author NFL senior vice president of labor litigation and policy Dennis Curran said that the NFL Players Association has not been clear about the contingency plans, and has thus caused players needless worry.

"I have repeatedly been told by agents and players that you are not getting reliable information on this point, and in recent months, there has in fact been a great deal of misinformation circulated on this subject," Curran said. "Some of that misinformation has included suggestions that wives of players need to induce labor prematurely to give birth before March 4, that children with serious illnesses will lose their insurance coverage overnight, or other equally inaccurate and inflammatory statements."

On Thursday, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith noted that the labor situation was worrisome to families who might have trouble purchasing insurance on their own -- for example, those who have pre-existing conditions.

He referenced it when answering a question about whether there was enough tension to get a deal done, as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones asserted was needed for deals like this.

"When you have discussions with players who have children on transplant lists," Smith said. "When you have discussions with players who have children who are suffering from terminal illnesses, when we know there are over 200 families expecting ... I don't know what he means by [not having enough] anxiety, tension and angst."

However, right after the speech, Teri Patterson, the NFLPA's deputy managing director, said she had personally been stressing to expectant families that the uncertain labor situation was not a reason to induce labor. The practice potentially could heighten certain risks for a newborn and mother.

She also said the owners could have opted to end the policy outright, which would have meant players had to purchase insurance on their own.

Channing Crowder said that the Dolphins had encouraged players to get any needed surgeries done right after the season. The Miami linebacker had an operation on his right thumb two days after the season ended, because he knew that access to team doctors for follow-up care will end in the event of a lockout on March 4.

"Our body is part of our job that's part of what we do is keep our bodies healthy," Crowder said. "Without that health care, it's going to be hard for a lot of guys, especially those older guys or guys coming off of injury this year. It was a big thing: Don't go into the lockout injured. Guys were talking about it."

Quarterback Mark Sanchez even referenced a lockout-dependent rehab for his right shoulder, which won't need surgery in the offseason. He said on Thursday that he would return to the Jets' Florham Park facility for a checkup with the team doctor in late February.

Crowder, who is planning a wedding and has a baby on the way, said the COBRA insurance will cost him roughly $1,300 a month.

The general public may think that it won't be very hard for NFL players to come up with that cash, but Neufeld said most NFL players don't make the big money and that the average career is around three years. She said that if her family had go through COBRA, it would be $2,000 a month, and the family would have had some hard choices to make.

Kaye Cole's husband, Colin, plays defensive tackle for the Seahawks, and she is pregnant with their third child, due in mid-May. She said the uncertainty is stressful enough, and she can't imagine how much worse it would be if her husband weren't a vested veteran or if this was their first child.

If absolutely necessary, she said they would be able to access a fund for players who have medical needs. But another concern is who her husband will use as a doctor, since he has really only gone to the team physician in recent years.

"They use the team doctor, that's just that," Cole said. "If there is a lockout we have to look for care for my husband."

Part of Neufeld's reason for agreeing to appear on the VH1 reality show, Football Wives, was because of the additional income for her family. She knows that the effects of football on her husband's body are far from over, and that they have to be careful with their health, and their money.

"If we had known at 22 what we know," she said, "we would have planned a little differently."

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