Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

October 4, 2012

Concussion bills go to Snyder

Some worry about cost of the safety measures

LANSING (AP) — The director of a youth sports organization in the Flint area says measures aimed at reducing concussions among student athletes are necessary but pose cost concerns for his and other financially struggling nonprofit groups.

David Munerlyn — who's known as "Coach Mun" to many in the community, especially in basketball circles — said he supports anti-concussion measures such as the one topping the agenda at the next board meeting of the Greater Flint Affiliation Youth Development Inc. But he said he cannot help but think about the cost of medical care for young athletes who have little or no insurance.

"The money's on my mind," Munerlyn said. "That is a concern in our group. We're dealing with a lot of inner-city children. ... I think organizations might have to come up with some ways of helping those parents."

Measures heading to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's desk would require Michigan Department of Community Health to develop educational materials and training for athletes, parents and coaches on concussion-related injuries and treatments. The legislation also would require coaches to immediately remove athletes suspected of having concussions from play and let them return only after getting a health professional's written approval.

The GOP-led Michigan House and Senate passed the measures with little opposition, and medical and health organizations who testified before legislative committees were nearly unanimous in their support of the bills. Still, House Fiscal Agency analysts say it could have cost implications for community recreation programs and school districts, and they question vague language in part of the legislation related to exemptions for groups with "substantially similar" concussion procedures.

Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor hasn't received the legislation, but intends to sign it after reviewing it.

The nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency says more than half of the states have enacted legislation dealing with student athlete concussions, and about a dozen more have measures pending. The measures stem from concerns that parents, coaches and students need to know more about signs and symptoms of a concussion.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has already adopted concussion procedures for middle school and high school athletes, but the measures expand to kindergarten-through-12th grade gym classes and local parks and recreation department programs.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, roughly 140,000 high school students a year suffer concussions. Advocates fear damage to developing brains from multiple concussions.

Munerlyn said he joins the chorus of support "regardless of the costs down the line." But he said there will need to be discussions to ensure costs are covered, particularly those involving the health exam required for athletes.

"Maybe we can have a doctor they could go to and get a reduced price," he said. "I'd pay it myself if I had to — it would get done. I've done so many other things I don't get compensated for."

Lester Liston, who is associate director of the Flint youth sports organization and also president of the Flint Inner City Youth Football League, said every child that plays in the football program is covered by liability insurance for injuries including concussions. The students pay a small fee as part of their registration to be covered.

"In the inner city, you can't take that chance on kids getting injured — they don't have coverage," Liston said. "You can't take that chance."

He said he supports the legislation, but added that state officials could go even further in ensuring student athletes' health and safety and look at the physical examinations required for student athletes to play in the first place. Citing examples of students collapsing and dying on athletic fields, Liston said the basic physicals aren't thorough enough to determine a student's overall health and fitness.

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