Kentucky Jockey Insurance Panel Debates Funding, Forms Subcommittees

Kentucky's blue ribbon panel on jockey compensation insurance formed subcommittees Wednesday to explore two different routes for jockey insurance coverage: a worker's compensation model and an accident health policy.

After much discussion on what form jockeys' insurance should take in Kentucky and who should pay for it, panel members agreed they need to find a cost structure and gather more data on current coverage for jockey and exercise riders in the state before the panel makes a recommendation to Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

"I don't think any of us can say for certain today whether it should be an accident policy or workers' comp until we know further what the costs are and what the coverages are and who is going to be in and who is going to be out," said panel member Harvie Wilkinson, vice president of Keeneland. "Right now it's dangerous for any of us to state a preference without more information. It's too premature. We need a lot more data."

In May, Fletcher appointed the 11-member panel that includes representatives from the General Assembly, horsemen's organizations, racetracks, and the Jockey's Guild to study jockey and exercise rider insurance coverage and directed the group to issue a report with recommendations to his office by Sept. 1.

"We're getting nowhere with an option until we have a supported funding program," said Tom Ludt, panel chairman and Kentucky Horse Racing Authority member. "A proposal is great, but if we can't fund it, it's not worth a whole lot."

Churchill Downs president and panel member Steve Sexton proposed the group form the subcommittees and volunteered to serve on the workers' comp subcommittee, along with David Switzer of Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders, Darrell Haire, member representative of the Jockey's Guild, and Bill Emrick, executive director of the Office of Workers' Claims.

"What we're tasked with is making sure we have the best remedy we can find for the future--not just one year at a time," Sexton said.

Wilkinson and Marty Maline of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association will serve on the health accident coverage subcommittee. Ludt and Jim Gallagher, executive director of the KHRA, will serve on both subcommittees.

Currently Kentucky racetracks provide a $1-million on-track accident insurance policy for jockeys and exercise riders.

In earlier meetings, panel members favored a worker's compensation plan similar to New York's plan in which jockeys are considered employees of a worker's comp fund, but considered a broader range of health insurance plans at Wednesday's meeting.

"Maybe we could marry a health care plan with some sort of optional disability plan--that might be cheaper than worker's comp," Wilkinson offered.

As in their two previous open meetings, panel members discussed ideas from industry representatives about who should fund the eventual plan, whatever form it may take. In discussing their preferences Wednesday, Sexton, representing racetrack concerns, said both jockeys and exercise riders should be covered and all parties, including riders, should contribute to the funding. The Jockey's Guild maintained a pro-workers' comp stance, but with funding from all parties except jockeys.

Haire also expressed an interest in funding the plan by increasing takeout, citing California where takeout on exotic wagers was increased one-half of 1% to help fund workers' compensation expenses last year.

"A one-quarter percent increase doesn't seem like much, and it worked in California," Haire said.

Ludt said, "There is no doubt a workers' comp recommendation is going to put a burden of funding on a variety of people. There is no (one) entity in this sport that can't support that."

Ludt asked the subcommittees to consult industry representatives and insurance experts and report findings at the panel's next scheduled meeting Aug. 15.