A vice president for the national Jockeys' Guild said Tuesday that he supports efforts by riders in California to form a separate organization to manage its health insurance coverage.
"We're enthusiastic about the prospects of this happening," said Albert Fiss, vice president of the Jockeys' Guild, responding to a report that 29 jockeys in the state have filed a petition with the Secretary of State's office to form a non-profit corporation called the "California Jockeys Guild."
Fiss said that the Guild has struggled with coverage issues from state to state and acknowledged that jockeys in California are unhappy with management of their health insurance. He said he believes that a local group could have a better relationship with the California Horse Racing Board, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and other regulatory bodies, resulting in more responsive coverage than the national organization can provide.
"At the end of the day, we want what's going to be in the best interests of the membership," he said.
"I'm not falling for that," said Ron Warren, who filed the California Jockey Guild documentation with the Secretary of State. Warren called on the national Guild leadership "to pick your heads up ... so you can see where you are going.
"I'm so disappointed in them," he said. "The CHRB, the TRA, riders in the north, riders in the south, everyone's asking them questions and they won't give any answers."
Warren said his group wants to see what kind of leadership the national Guild provides before they decide to go ahead.
Recent reports from around the country that jockeys in some states have been cut off from sufficient benefits to cover costs of catastrophic injuries have brought Guild insurance policies under scrutiny in California. While catastrophic coverage is not as big an issue in California, which covers riders' injuries through trainer-paid workers' compensation insurance, the CHRB, at the request of the TOC, has formed a committee to investigate how state funds provided for such costs are actually spent by the Guild.
State law authorizes the CHRB to allocate a portion of uncashed pari-mutuel ticket revenue -- about $1 million a year -- to the Guild for health coverage for California jockeys and their families.
Barry Broad, an attorney for the Guild, estimates that fully active jockeys in California are paying $900 a month or more for health insurance coverage for themselves and their families, even with help provided by the state.
"It's a huge problem," Broad said. "Jockeys move from state to state, they compete in places where workers' comp doesn't exist. They do it all of the time. As a result it makes a national system for comprehensive self-insured health coverage very difficult to administer.
"I think there are jockeys in California who think that it is much simpler than it is," Broad said. "They think their health coverage should be cheaper. Let them explore it and see if they can handle it better. I think they will probably discover that there are far more complex economic realities than they maybe anticipated."
Fiss said he spoke to Kent Desormeaux about organizing a meeting of Southern California jockeys Thursday to discuss the new state organization and wants a similar meeting at Los Alamitos Race Course. He plans to contact Warren about setting up a riders' meeting in Northern California as well.
Richard Shapiro, the CHRB commissioner who heads the ad hoc committee probing the Guild's use of state funds, confirmed receiving a letter signed by Warren and 28 others stating the jockeys' intent.
Shapiro said he understands that the California Jockeys Guild could take over management of riders' benefits by demonstrating that it represents a majority of the 100 or so active jockeys in the state.
"I don't see why we wouldn't give it to them (in that case)," he said, referring to the CHRB.
Shapiro said that the national Jockeys' Guild has agreed to an audit of its health insurance benefit reports for the past several years as they pertain to state money used in California claims. In a meeting with Broad and two other Guild representatives, he said they promised "to cooperate in every way."