You Paid For It: Pinellas school sports insurance shrouded in confusion

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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — At Pinellas County schools, if you want to play sports you have to buy accident and injury insurance — the  school district’s insurance, not yours. The school district’s rates start as low as $5 for some school activities and go up to $100 for varsity football players.

It doesn’t matter if families have their own primary medical insurance, because the school district requires secondary coverage, regardless. “We do have to protect ourselves against lawsuits,” said spokeswoman Lisa Wolf. “Typically when families feel they have medical coverage they tend to sue less which puts less of a burden on taxpayers.”

Back in September, Wolf told us the loss ratio for the district’s mandatory sports insurance ranged from 31 to 38 percent over a recent 3-year period. In other words, for every $3 in premiums paid by parents, they received about $1 back in claims. But Wolf now says those numbers were wrong, based on incorrect data supplied by the district’s insurance broker, HSR. “We received incorrect information,” Wolf said. Tuesday.

Wolf gave 8 On Your Side revised loss ratio numbers that include lagging payments on insurance claims which make the bottom like look better. Based on those numbers the district now insists its loss ratio was 54 percent for 2013-14, 44 percent for 2014-15, and 45 percent for the 2015-16 school years.

The State Office of Insurance Regulation requires insurance companies to have a minimum of a 50 percent loss ratio — a dollar back for every two paid in premiums. Only one of those school years appears to meet meets that standard, but the state says that doesn’t mean there were any laws broken.  That’s because losses suffered by another school district under that same insurance policy might be worse and balance out the relatively low loss ratio in Pinellas.

There’s no way to check that because the state doesn’t track which clients fall under the same policy and doesn’t check for compliance on this kind of group policy, preferring instead to leave it up to market competition to keep everyone honest.

Ace American–the current underwriter for Pinellas schools sports insurance–predicted a loss ratio of 65 percent when it first filed for state regulatory approval back in 2002. This translates into $2 paid back in claims for every $3 spent on premiums.  That company–which is now called Chubb, won’t disclose what its current losses are in Pinellas or elsewhere citing “privacy concerns.”

Meanwhile, the Pinellas School District signed a three year extension of its insurance contract last year, based on what it considers to be the best deal available in the school sports insurance market..”When we last took bids for our insurance this was the best deal available for families,” Wolf said. Good deal or not, parents of Pinellas schools football players pay $100 in premiums compared to parents in Hillsborough who pay $50 for insurance offered through a different provider. Polk County parents don’t pay anything because the district pays for the premiums there.

If parents of Pinellas school athletes object to the cost of premiums or have trouble collecting on claims, the state says they can file complaints with the Department of Financial Services Consumer Hotline at 1-877-693-5236, go online or email the department at consumer.services@myfloridacfo.com .

Meanwhile the Pinellas School District insists the insurance that parents are forced to buy is as good as it gets. “We have to  be able to trust that our vendor will work on behalf of the district and its students,” Wolf said. “And in this case we feel confident the vendor has.”

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