I used to think that only professionals and athletes in highly competitive sports suffered serious sports injuries. A memory of such injury was when Mary Decker, top seed US runner, fell grievously in the 3000 km sprint at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But the truth about sports injuries struck home, about two decades ago when I hurt myself playing squash in Jamshedpur. I had to rush to Kolkata for surgery and then to Hyderabad for a month-long treatment. Although I recovered well, I had no insurance to pay my costs. Fortunately, I worked for a company that picked up the expensive tab. In hindsight, I should have bought health insurance much earlier. So, my first recommendation is if you do not have Mediclaim insurance, buy one right away. You should also be clear about the types of sports injuries possible and which of those are insurable. Here you will find out if your health insurance covers gym and sports injuries or not.
Types of sports injuries
Sports injuries can be of many types. A young athletic schoolgirl in my daughter’s school had a major ligament tear that left her in crutches for months. Prior to the pandemic, a large cause of accidents in Delhi was children playing on trampolines at birthday parties. Injuries occur in gyms, swimming pools, and playgrounds. There are instances of healthy persons collapsing on treadmills. Some sports are inherently risky. A polo player I know often needs surgery because of match injuries. Fortunately, most sports injuries are mild sprains, muscle pulls, and abrasions.
The best way to reduce injury is to be careful. Avoid unnecessary risks. The scale-up intensity gradually. Have a plan in case you hurt yourself. Identify hospitals that you can go to quickly and doctors that can treat you. Also, be clear about what insurance will pay for.
Cover of gym and sports injuries under Health Insurance
Over the years the insurance regulator has significantly reduced health insurance exclusions and standardized definitions. Today, the only sports-related exclusion allowed in a regular Mediclaim insurance is for professional sportspersons and that too in hazardous activities. Most of us do not fall in this category which means that your health insurance will cover any hospitalization or daycare procedures due to injury, even if because of sports or caused in the gym.
Other insurances such as critical illness, personal accident, or overseas travel insurance do not yet have the same level of safeguards as the Mediclaim insurance. These insurances have broader exclusions and more caveats in the insurance contract. For example, one insurer excluded cover if a person was injured while participating in adventure sports and defined adventure sports broadly as any activity involving physical exertion and skill. I have paraphrased the exact policy wordings for brevity, but the essence is that the definition is broad enough to exclude any sports injury. Another insurer for overseas travel insurance excluded any bodily contact sport or potentially dangerous sport for which you are untrained.
A key point in several Mediclaim insurances is that outpatient (OPD) costs are typically not covered. This means that you will need to pay for minor strains, ligament tears, and even fractures yourself. This is okay because these costs are not very high. Insurance comes in handy when the injury is more severe.
The first insurance that you should buy is Mediclaim insurance. All these insurances will pay for sports injuries if hospitalized. Generally, for those that live in metros, I would recommend a minimum cover of ₹10 lakhs. Such insurance would cost about ₹10,000 per annum for a 40-year old. For those that supplement the core insurance with a critical illness or personal accident insurance, read the policy wordings carefully, particularly the provisions on sports-related injuries. These contracts have other caveats as well that you should be aware of. For example, one insurer requires you to inform them if you change your occupation otherwise a claim is not payable.
Non-sports related exclusions to be mindful of
No insurance will pay a claim if you were inebriated when the injury took place or if there is evidence of substance abuse. Another universal exclusion is cosmetic treatment. This clause came up in the case of the polo player that I mentioned earlier. He broke his jaw during a match and the insurer denied the claim on the grounds of it being cosmetic repair. I argued that the repair was not cosmetic but medically necessary. But such disputes turn out to belong processes. Similarly, does not pay illegal acts. For example, were you to go rafting with unlicensed operators the claim can be denied.
I certainly do not want to curb your enthusiasm for sports and exercise because I am passionate about these myself. Dani Rojas in the award-winning serial Ted Lasso captures the spirit eloquently when he whispers that “Football is life.” But you will play a better game if you know that the risks have been taken care of.