With NFL's future unclear, health insurance a prime concern for Akers

David Akers spends almost $2,400 a month to insure himself, his wife, and their three young children. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

David Akers has had job offers. He has had chances at securing free health insurance working in sales-related capacities, at least until the NFL and the players agree on a new collective bargaining agreement and the Eagles, or whomever he ends up playing for whenever next season begins, pick up the tab.

But Akers said no. He did not want to have to change his kids' doctors or have anything go wrong in the treatment of his 6-year-old daughter, Halley, who had a cancerous ovary removed in January.

"I wouldn't take that option right now," Akers said.

There will be plenty of NFL news Wednesday. It will come from Minnesota, where U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson will hear arguments from attorneys for the players and the league in their labor dispute. The players will ask Nelson for an injunction to lift the lockout, arguing that the NFL violated antitrust laws and that the lockout is causing irreparable harm to the players. The league will ask Nelson to keep the lockout in place because the players violated labor laws, and their dispute does not fall under antitrust laws.

It is a big day, to be sure, and the next big step in this nasty, unnecessary disruption of America's pastime. But the legal jockeying and inflammatory rhetoric that will undoubtedly follow will be enough to make even the most dedicated fan tune out.

Akers understands that. Like the fans, he just wants this whole thing to be over.

There is more to this dispute than lawyers and half-truths. There are real-life repercussions, and one of them is that the players now have begun paying for their health insurance under the federal COBRA law, and the sums have certainly gotten their attention.

For Akers, who has a family of five, the monthly hit is the equivalent of a mortgage payment. To insure himself, his wife, and their three young children, Akers must pay approximately $2,400 a month.

The cost, even to him, is significant.

"When you're not employed or know where you're going to live or who you're going to be playing for, it adds up quickly," Akers said. "You need to be saving. To spend that on health insurance isn't what you want, but for myself, I pay it with a happy heart each month to know it's going to be used to monitor my daughter. I see it as another childhood expense."

Akers said Halley has recovered from a successful procedure at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and has received positive reports about the health of her other ovary. She will continue to get tested monthly, then more sporadically in the years ahead.

"If I had nothing going on with Halley, I would've been more apt to taking guys up on their offers and taking other health insurance," Akers said.

According to nfllabor.com, an NFL-owned website, 1,192 of the roughly 1,900 players have signed up for COBRA benefits. The others have until May 10 to do so.

For players who have played in the league for at least four years, like Akers, they can pull the money out of a health-care annuity. Jamaal Jackson said he is doing that to cover the nearly $1,800 he must pay per month.

Those not vested pay for COBRA out of pocket - if they choose to continue their insurance benefits.

"You're either paying for it now, or you're paying for it later," Akers said. "It all comes out of the nest egg."

The insurance hit is tough for Akers and his family because in 2009 they lost nearly 10 years of savings to the investment firm Triton Financial, which regulators have accused of fraud. They don't have the nest egg they did, not even close.

For that reason, Akers needs another contract. In February, the Eagles used the rare transition tag on Akers, but he did not sign it, he said, because no one knows if it will be valid once there is a new collective bargaining agreement. He would like to remain an Eagle, but he needs a long-term contract that the Eagles have thus far been unwilling to provide.

So Akers remains in New Jersey, working out with a trainer, taking classes to become a minister, and waiting for the labor mess to get resolved. He is stuck in professional limbo, unable to hit the open market, forced to pay a big insurance bill. His house is ready to sell, but he would like to stay.

"We have the golden goose here, and we're close to putting the ax on the golden goose," Akers said. "It's a shame for a lot of different people. The owners. The players. And the fans ultimately are going to be the biggest losers.

"Obviously I want to resolve it. This is my livelihood. I'd like to know where I'm going to be playing, where I'm going to be living, where my kids are going to be going to school. But you can't always get what you want. I wish cooler heads could prevail. . . . It's tough to sit back and have no say while your livelihood is in the hands of the court system."

But that is where it is for the NFL and the players today. In court. If the dispute stretches on, and it probably will, the insurance bills will mount. Akers has done the math. He will continue to pay, because in his mind, he has no choice.


Contact columnist Ashley Fox

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