x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sports injuries: Why they could leave you financially crippled in the UAE

Expats tell how they have been left with bills for tens of thousands of dirhams of treatment after their employer-provided insurance failed to help.

Richard Holland, a 30-year-old Ironman competitor, was hit by a car in the early hours of an October morning in 2012 while training for a race. Courtesy: Holland Family
Richard Holland, a 30-year-old Ironman competitor, was hit by a car in the early hours of an October morning in 2012 while training for a race. Courtesy: Holland Family

DUBAI // The moment Bert Grogor hit the grass, he knew something was wrong.

A tackle during an amateur rugby game had broken his left collar bone and ruptured his right patellar tendon. But lying on the grass in agony, he had no idea just how much the injury would cost him in time off work and medical bills.

Like most amateur sport enthusiasts, he assumed the medical insurance provided by his employer would cover it.
“I was operated on and I woke up with a bill for Dh25,000 – my medical aid didn’t cover any sporting activities,” said Mr Grogor, 31.

Nor did his insurance cover the physiotherapy he needed to recover, and he has spent more than Dh60,000 in the two years since the accident, including the cost of business class flights home to South Africa because he cannot bend his leg.

“It’s a big lesson to learn. I am sure there a lot of people in the same position who are not aware of what their medical cover really is,” he said.

Among the sports excluded from coverage by Daman in the event of accident are rock-climbing, polo, jet skiing, judo, karate, and bungee-jumping. Insurance provider Axa excludes base jumping, certain martial arts and free climbing.

“We need to make people aware of the fine print,” said Neil Vuyk of Globaleye wealth management. “People just want to pay as little as possible and get cover but when it comes down to crunch time, they find out it isn’t good. It’s only when you have to find a hospital or a doctor that you realise.

“There are so many stories of that happening. It should be the first thing put in place if you are doing sports.”

One of the more tragic stories is that of Richard Holland, 30, an Ironman competitor who was hit by a car in the early hours of an October morning in 2012.

He was cycling from his home in Motor City along Al Qudra Road at the time, towards the cycle lane that heads towards Bab Al Shams.

The crash left Richard with severe injuries to his brain as well as broken ribs, punctured lungs, a fractured sternum and a fractured right fibula.

He has since returned to South Africa, where his mother cares for him 24/7. To do so, she has had to buy an electronic bed with customised bed blocks for correct positioning, a hoist to raise and lower him from the bed, a commode and a customised wheelchair.

To transport him anywhere other than home, the floor and seats of the family car have had to be removed to accommodate his wheelchair. All of this comes at a hefty price for his family – around R1.4 million (Dh520,000), and that does not include the monthly cost of a comprehensive neuro-rehabilitation programme.

Richard’s friends in the UAE do what they can to help and started the Back On Your Bike Campaign to raise funds for him by competing in sporting events.

Whether your sport is bicycling or Thai boxing, there are several ways to supplement a normal private health care plan. Approach your current provider to talk about tailoring your coverage to circumvent some of the exclusions. If that is not an option, consider sports-specific personal accident insurance from an independent broker to supplement your current coverage.

Mr Grogor is taking no chances: since his injury he has taken out personal medical coverage, which costs him just over Dh600 a month. “It covers me a lot more,” he said.

Ramez Shawlky, managing director of Gravity Zone, said their bungee jumpers sign a waiver of indemnity, but they are covered if something goes wrong with the equipment or operations. “It is all covered under the policy,” he said.

If someone does injure themselves, there is a lengthy investigation by the insurance company. “They check to see if you followed the standard procedures and did what you’ve been told, took the safety precautions or gave us false information in those waivers – it’s just like any incident report which goes to insurance after that,” he said.

eharnan@thenational.ae