Calif. Jockey Health Plan Boosted

Calif. Jockey Health Plan Boosted
The California Horse Racing Board gave the go-ahead Nov. 29 to begin forming a trust to oversee a new jockeys' health insurance program in the state beginning Jan. 1, 2008.

The California Jockeys Trust would replace the national Jockeys' Guild for administration of most coverage benefits for riders and their families. It would take control of about $1 million a year paid out to subsidize jockey health benefits in monthly installments by the CHRB through uncashed winning tickets. The current agreement between the Guild and the state horsemen's representative, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, expires Dec. 31.

A new deal between the Guild and the TOC to establish a trust was worked out prior to the CHRB board meeting at the University of California-Davis, but commissioners had not had an opportunity to review it. The ratification, likely a formality, was reset for Dec. 14, the next time the board meets. But in the meantime, the board voted unanimously to allow the trust to begin formation and empowered CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro or vice chairman John Harris to take any actions deemed necessary on behalf of the board.

Barry Broad, Guild attorney, asked for the board action in order to prevent any lapse in coverage in the transfer of the fund from the Guild to the California Jockeys Trust. Because of the uncashed ticket subsidy, California jockey insurance rates are among the lowest in the nation.

According to retired rider Ron Warren, all current and retired jockeys and their families that were previously eligible for the California benefits will be included in the new coverage.

Shapiro called the arrangement with Great-West Healthcare "really a great plan .... for California jockeys past and present."

Broad and Drew Couto, president of the TOC, credited Warren with working long and hard to find a company that could take over coverage from the Guild, which is having financial problems and wants to terminate its self-funded insurance program. Warren actually began the quest three years ago when he and several other riders formed the California Jockeys Guild to explore the possibility of taking over rider health insurance from the national body.

"Ron Warren did what nobody else could do in handling the level of trauma necessary to find a health plan for jockeys," Broad said.

Added Cuoto, "We ended up with something that everybody could be happy with."

Under the agreement, the board to oversee the plan will consist of two representatives from the Guild, two from the TOC and one from the CHRB.

In other action, the board approved one-year license renewals in 2008 for four advance deposit wagering companies -- Twinspires,com, TVG, and XpressBet Inc. -- contingent on their approval of a "card check" agreement with labor representatives as required in legislation governing ADW that takes effect Jan. 1. The applications were originally made for two-year extensions but were reduced in order for the parties to review how a shared wagering content agreement between the companies is working.

As expected, the board approved adding the anabolic steroids stanazolol, nandrolone, boldenone and testosterone to the list of substances that horses can be officially tested for through urine analysis, and established the maximum levels that they can be present in order to legally compete. The rule amendment was sent out for a 45-day public comment period.

The board also approved a rule amendment that would require the scratch of any horse that has been gelded but not reported to the racing office by the official scratch time for the race in which the horse is entered. That change will also be subject to a 45-day public comment period. In 2006-07,  the wrong-sex listing happened 44 times, according to CHRB officials. 

No action was taken on the election of a new board chairman and vice chairman nor in beginning the search for a new executive director to replace Ingrid Fermin, who leaves her post in January. Both matters were put over until the Dec. 14 meeting, as was a rule amendment that would revise the jockey riding fee structure. The increase in riding fees was mandated by a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1. The board will undertake it as an urgency measure next month.

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