Thursday 23 February 2017

GAA forced to rejig injury fund

DAMIAN LAWLOR

THE GAA has revamped its player injury scheme after being forced to fork out a massive €9.5m in claims last year.

Figures to be released in the next few weeks show that the whopping compensation bill left the scheme with a deficit of over €1m for 2009, leaving the association with no choice but to make severe changes.

The injury fund will no longer compensate club or county players for any pre-operation physiotherapy bills incurred. Instead, the GAA will now compensate post-operation physio expenses only -- to a maximum amount of €320.

Explaining the move, officials said that the incidence of physiotherapy claims have multiplied by 100 per cent in recent times, prompting them to make cuts to its fund which has lost close to €2m per year over the last decade. To try and stop that drain, the GAA last year introduced a policy of only paying out on bills received from chartered physiotherapists or doctors but found this system impossible to police.

GAA director of finance Tom Ryan says they had little choice but to introduce this policy. He said they could either cut back on the benefits available in the scheme or keep it going as it was and let the clubs make up the shortfall. But with clubs already paying €1,000 per year into the fund, the latter option was simply not sustainable.

"Our injury scheme is not an insurance policy in the strict sense," said Ryan. "It's a self-administered fund which accumulates money in two ways -- a fixed percentage of all gate receipts, plus a contribution from every registered team. The pooled funds are then used to pay out to injured players on a pre-defined basis depending on the type of injury.

"There is no insurance company involved. The scheme is not intended to make a profit but in order to survive, its income has to at least approximate its outgoings in the long term. Unfortunately in recent years, the incidence of claims has multiplied by almost 100% to the extent that we had a claims cost of almost €9.5m, and a deficit on the scheme of €1m for 2009.

"Unless we take some kind of remedial action, the scheme cannot survive. You can only pay out what you take in and the money is just not there. Getting bills of €9.5m cannot last. Clearly, the revenue side of things is not going to improve any time soon, so that means we have to reduce the cost of claims. That way, the scheme will continue and we're proud that the fund is still the only one of its kind across the major sporting bodies."

Clubs and county boards will now have to monitor, and finance, their physiotherapy costs. "Players will still be able to get physio but the clubs and boards will have to look after the costs," Ryan pointed out. "So physio is still incorporated, just not from this scheme. The overall injury fund will collapse otherwise. And we have to ensure that, with player welfare in mind, we are able to look after all the other serious problems that players from our 2,500 registered clubs endure, like illness, loss of earnings and medical costs."

The original purpose of the scheme was to alleviate financial hardship caused by injury. Ironically, in the early stages of the fund physiotherapy bills were not even included. As the modern game evolved, however, the physio element turned from a minor incidental into a rapidly rising burden.

"The alternative would have been to drastically reduce the amounts payable on the smaller number of high-cost claims for more serious injuries," Ryan said. "But we felt that this would be contrary to the spirit and purpose of the scheme."

Sunday Independent

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