When Playing Sports Backfires; $55,000 in Medical Debt at 20

Sports from childhood. Football (soccer) shown...
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I’m surprised to see little interest — according to the most e-mailed list for today’s New York Times — in Kristina Peterson’s front-page story on how some U.S. college athletes are getting stuck with some enormous and unexpected bills as a result of their sports participation.

It’s a little ironic. The country seems split between the sinewy hard-bodied we love to idolize and sometimes lavishly reward: college athletes, triathletes, marathoners, Ironmen and million-dollar pro’s — and the rank-and-file rest of us, the obese and overweight, the junk-food-addicted fatties forever being exhorted to get out there and exercise, dammit!

Wii just ain’t gonna do it.

The story, for anyone who’s ever competed seriously as an athlete, NCAA or not, is compelling. As any athlete knows, injury and illness are often inevitable, at any age. I had two knee surgeries, in 2000 and 2001, an arthroscopy on each, to remove torn cartilage I’d wrecked after years of playing sports. The year before the first surgery, I was playing squash three times a week, loving it, never worried about my weight or fitness level. Now that game is forever off-limits to me and I struggle to find ways to keep the weight off, without further injury or surgery, through the sports I love.

Erin Knauer, 20, got stuck with $55,000 in medical bills after she was diagnosed with a muscular inflammation that college officials at Colgate said were not covered under their insurance, reports the Times. She joined the crew team as a walk-on but within a month was in and out of ERs and facing physical therapy. She is now working two jobs to meet monthly minimum payments of $200 to $250 and, having negotiated and paying off some of her debt, still faces $7,000 to $8,000 in bills. This is nuts. Really.

“I never though I’d be in this position today,” she says. Weekly phone calls from bill collectors threatening to sue her have added to her stress. “I definitely have broken down over the year,” she says.

If insurers and policymakers currently going mano a mano over healthcare costs really want a nation of people who are fit and strong  — and who can indeed fracture, sprain, tear, bruise, splinter or strain their bodies in the process of getting there, whether they’re 16 or 65 — what good is adding insult to injury by penalizing them when they overstep their insurance policies?

This hypocrisy is madness!

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