Health Insurance for Bull Riders

We all know bull riders aren’t crybabies, and sprains and strains are nothing to them. They shake off injuries that would put defensive linebackers out for weeks or months—while those linebackers are still on salary. Fat salaries—with health insurance, and the best healthcare.

I can vouch for the healthcare: I had a knee repaired at Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC, and was in their recommended rehab center for what seemed like months—those are the two places pro football players go to get their booboos fixed. Same kind of booboo I had. It’s not cheap.

Some injuries bull riders can’t ignore. Pistol Robinson couldn’t ride with two broken legs, even though two broken legs means big hospital bills and no income. Some riders return to competition way before their bodies are ready, and some resist surgery even when it’s obvious they need it. (I’m talking to you, Fabiano Vieira! Scared of needles?! You get on a 2,000-lb. bucking bull, but you’re scared of needles?? Você está me matando!)

I’ll bet I could count on one hand the number of riders who have full insurance coverage. For a rider in the million-dollar-cowboy bracket, surgery and rehab costs aren’t going to cause bankruptcy; those people can even afford to stay out of action for months. Medical costs are devastating for other riders.

It’s not uncommon to see on Facebook and Twitter pleas from family and friends of riders for donations to pay for surgery and rehab. These riders literally have to ask strangers to contribute so they can have an operation, recover, and stay afloat financially while they recover. I’d guess that for most of them, that’s more humiliating than a buckoff.

One example: in 2012, California bull rider Colin McTaggart was injured at the Ross Coleman Invitational in Molalla, Oregon: he was bucked off and trampled; an artery in his abdomen was ruptured, he had injuries to his liver and intestines, and three ribs were broken. In a coma, he underwent multiple surgeries at Legacy Manual Hospital in Portland, and spent 10 days in the ICU. A McTaggart Donation Fund was set up at Bank of America in San Luis Obispo, CA. Friends and family kept people posted on Facebook about his progress, and continued to request donations.

The PRCA’s helping hand is the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. This is from their website (emphasis is mine):

”With no guaranteed salaries or injured reserve provisions in the sport of rodeo, these professional athletes are often left with no place to turn when faced with serious, sidelining injuries and the accompanying financial hardship. Recognizing that serious injuries can be traumatic enough without the additional burden of financial worries, the Justin Boot Company formed a partnership with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) to establish the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund (JCCF). The Fund incorporated in 1990 and was granted 501-C3 status as a non-profit charity organization in 1991.

JCCF had awarded in excess of $6.7 million in need-based financial assistance to more than 1,000 injured rodeo athletes and their families. For the 2013 Fiscal Year, JCCF received donations totaling $277,662 and distributed $251,250 to 43 injured rodeo athletes and their families. At the end of 2013 the organization has net assets of $1,133,544.”

Those numbers are slightly different from what’s on their 2013 tax form, but according to these figures, that’s roughly $5,800 to each athlete in 2013. That might be fine for a short time-out, but it doesn’t cover medical care. Also, the athlete has to meet certain qualifications. Many of the injured athletes are still in college, so the money helps them finish while they’re injured, but what about athletes supporting families?

As of right now, no impact statement is available to show the exact results of funding. And since the organization has no salaried grant writer, it depends largely on donations and fundraising events.  Further, “Because JCCF does not have an extensive endowment, historically the fund has not covered medical bills but has concentrated on assisting with basic monthly living expenses for those who qualify for assistance.”  

No endowment? Bad news. Investment income? $213 in 2013, half of what it was in 2012. What the hell is going on out there? You can see the need for a grant writer.

PBR’s equivalent safety net is the Rider Relief Fund (that’s one of many names it has). I’m glad they exist, but sad to say, according to their website, “Since 1998, the Rider Relief Fund has provided more than 450 athletes with assistance totaling over $1.4 million.”

That’s $3,111 per athlete—and it took them 17 years to get to that point! I’d say their illustrious sponsors aren’t pulling their weight. On the other hand, the support is available to PBR riders at any level of competition—if they meet certain criteria.

The organization’s financials aren’t impressive. The total of their contributions and grants is half the intake of the Justin fund—except that the RRF actually has some investment(s) that brought in more than $14,000 in 2013.

The net assets of each fund show that the PRCA and WPRA are better at raising and handling money than PBR is: $390,000 better (unless things have changed in the last year—but neither organization has filed its 2014 figures yet). Nobody is paid to work for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, but the RRF pays one part-time person a salary that jumped by almost $19,000 from 2012 to 2013. It’s not what they pay their accountant; that’s a separate number. I’ll be damned if I can find who this person is, because s/he’s not named on the form. I’ll just have to assume s/he worked additional hours.

Okay, the numbers are boring. The upshot of all this math is that the Rider Relief Fund needs to pull up its britches. The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund is doing the work without anyone being paid (if we’re to believe the tax form).

Bottom line: those funds don’t subsidize medical expenses. So what do bull riders do?

PRCA members get comprehensive accident insurance coverage; it’s covered by their membership and annual permit fees. I’ve heard it covers $300,000 worth of medical expenses for disastrous injury. Regular health insurance coverage is something else, though, and those monthly premiums are the rider’s responsibility.

I know that a very good individual health insurance plan from a commercial carrier would cost me about $950 a month, not counting deductibles or co-pays. If you have dependents, you’re looking at a lot more.

PBR is murky about its insurance coverage; you have to get the information out of them privately. This is from their website: “All competing contestants will be insured for a limited amount against injury while competing at PBR events. The insurance coverage is subject to a deductible to be paid by rider, provides a percentage coverage requiring co-payment from the rider, and is subject to change anytime. Please check with the PBR office for more information about coverage amounts, terms and conditions.”

Pretty lousy, huh? So many loopholes, it looks like Swiss cheese.

Sure, safety equipment and concussion evaluation technology are becoming more common, but riders still get seriously injured, and half of them still don’t wear helmets.

Riders don’t have a union to offer them health insurance. They could group together and get a reasonable rate. Being their own union, their own source of health insurance, doesn’t give anyone else power, it increases their own power and gives them some bargaining ability, especially those who don’t have strong agents—or any agent at all.

If a union makes PBR nervous, all the better. Maybe they’ll ante up and provide sufficient accident insurance, and even health plans, without all those caveats.

The other alternative, the one that exists right now, requires no unionizing, comes in all sizes, and is available to all. It’s called the Affordable Care Act. Most people don’t know what it actually offers—except for the 8 million people who signed up last year, and people who set aside their attitudes toward the President to read what the Act provides. If you don’t want to read the reality, skip right to the video and let James tell you how it helped him.

Here’s what the Affordable Care Act does:

Affordable Care Act video

  • Provides a choice of several health insurance plans, depending on where you live and which companies and states have agreed to participate. This is called the Health Exchange Marketplace.
  • Some plans are sponsored by the federal government, some are state-sponsored. Each state has its own website where you can compare plans.
  • The cost of the plans is less than those offered commercially by all private insurance companies.
  • The Health Exchange Marketplace takes into consideration your income level and tax return as to which plans are available to you. Some people may qualify for extra help paying, with a government tax credit.
  • The insurance plans come in different price levels, Silver (the least expensive plan) Gold (the medium-priced plan), and Platinum (the most expensive plan).
  • The cheapest plans have higher deductibles, the more expensive plans have lower deductibles.
  • The cheaper plans have higher co-pays, the more expensive plans have lower co-pays.
  • The cheaper plans have smaller networks of doctors and hospitals.
  • The expensive plans have larger networks.
  • All plans offer an optional pharmacy plan. Medicine prices are determined according to a formulary that’s also available on the website.
  • You can buy a dental plan as an add-on under certain policies.
  • You can buy a vision plan as an add-on under certain policies.

You can check all this information and get the pricing and lists of benefits, on the Health Exchange Marketplace websites. You need patience, because sometimes a website has glitches, like half the other websites in the world. You also can call a number and talk to a person to get information. You may or may not get someone who knows how to help you—just like if you call Customer Service at any large organization. Don’t blame the President if this happens. That would be just plain idiotic.

Guys: take care of yourselves. Do yourselves a favor and set aside whatever you think of the President. This Affordable Care Act works. It will give you health insurance.

You’re welcome.



About Bull Riding Marketing

Creative services, marketing and public relations professional from entertainment industry background. Published in magazines and newspapers worldwide. I believe bull riders are the new rock stars.
This entry was posted in ABBI, Built Ford Tough Series, Bull Riding, CBR, cowboys, PBR, PRCA, Tuff Hedeman, WNFR and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Health Insurance for Bull Riders

  1. TG says:

    Honestly, I feel PBR should provide the same benefits to its members as the NFL. Salaries, health coverage, you name it. I love the sport, competing many years ago. However, it does not make sense how PBR can let their members down.


  2. Steve says:

    Can you tell me if you know people personally who have used ACA insurance to cover a bullriding accident. My son is a bull rider and I know he can get ACA ins. but will it cover all accidents from riding the bull?


    • I don’t know whether specific bull riders are taking care of their health insurance through the ACA, but that’s an interesting question. Coverage would depend on what the injuries are. I don’t know if they have special rules for bull riders–I’m pretty sure insurance companies don’t know much about the sport! Each insurance company has its own list of benefits and coverage, so you’d need to go to the Health Exchange Marketplace online to look up the different plans available in your state, and see which ones have what you need. It’s a long, tedious process, but worth it, because you’ll know which plan covers what, and to what extent.


  3. licorice whip says:

    Great post, Kris. All riders should embrace the Affordable Care Act. I always thought that Tandy was the health insurance. When he fixes a rider’s ACL, does the rider have to pay?


    • Poor Tandy! Even if he doesn’t have a salary, the hospital, anesthesiologist, plastic surgeon, neurologist, nurses, or anyone else involved would have to be paid. I’d be curious to know whether PBR picks up the tab for any of that. I think in the riders’ contracts there’s a limit to what they get.

      The tough part is trying to get the riders to see that the ACA is to their benefit– it’s not the enemy!


  4. Tired of being fan says:

    If a bull rider is married, and his wife has a job with benefits, they are good but there are many single and have no insurance. They really don’t have a steady job that gives them a paycheck each week. Maybe the new big corporation that bought will come up with a health care plan for the riders. One can lonely hope.


    • There’s just one thing: if the corporation provides the health insurance, then the riders become employees of the corporation, and their lives aren’t their own anymore. They could even be fired if their “boss” doesn’t like something, such as a guy riding on another circuit. If the riders unionized instead, their union would buy group health insurance, and they’d still be their own bosses. Right now, their only real option for health insurance is the Affordable Care Act. I wish more of them would take advantage of it!


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