For less than pounds 300 a year, some of the most famous soccer stars, including England captain Alan Shearer, got the best treatment at famous private hospitals. The Bupa scheme failed to exclude professional sportsmen including footballers despite their vulnerability to injuries.
Insurance brokers used by top football teams urged club officials to insure some of the country's most valuable legs, knees and ankles under the Bupa deal. It enabled players to undergo MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and CT scans (Computerised Tomography) which are sophisticated scanning techniques, as well as unlimited hospital care and out-patient physiotherapy for bargain basement premiums. Brokers even negotiated discounts on normal premiums, which are already very cheap because men in their twenties are usually considered low-risk customers.
The treatments are believed to have cost Bupa pounds 5m a year. All Bupa claims are pooled, and taken into consideration when actuaries set premiums. Medical insurance costs for ordinary customers rose on average 8 per cent in 1997.
Now Bupa is urging clubs to move to a new group insurance scheme. But it can do nothing to force them to move existing clients onto a less attractive policy. Bupa says the new offer will give clubs a better deal. "We found we could offer a much keener price to sports groups if we excluded some benefits such as MRI/CT scans and out-patient physio from cover thus allowing clubs to negotiate their own prices with local providers or through their intermediary."
But the new club-based insurance schemes, with premiums calculated on previous years' claims will make them far more expensive than the current policies. One broker estimates players will cost at least pounds 1,000 a year to insure, which could cripple small clubs.
The Football Association is running its own medical insurance scheme, part-subsidised by grants and BSkyB payments.
Costly legs, page 3