When $765 million isn’t enough

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By Kevin Woo, January 16, 2014, for Alzheimer’s Speaks

Last August the National Football League settled a lawsuit with its players union. The league agreed to create a $765 million fund for retired players who suffer the effects of repeated head trauma. The fund is designed to last for 65 years to take into account players who have yet to enter the league. Currently, there are approximately 6,000 plaintiff claims.

Independent neurologists concluded that violent blows to the head can cause concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, dementia and ALS.

The money will be distributed on a sliding scale with those who currently live with dementia receiving between $3-5 million.

This week U.S. District Judge Anita Brody denied preliminary approval of the plan stating that she was unsure that the proposed amount would be sufficient to address all of the potential plaintiff suits for the next 65 years.

Likewise, a number of players have noted that the league earns $9 billion annually, and question whether the proposed $765 million fund is sufficient to cover players through the year 2079.

The squabbling of $765 million doesn’t matter to those who live in the real world. Most of will never play in the National Football League nor will we ever be eligible for dementia benefits from our employer.

I think what’s important is that the NFL is “willing” to set aside $765 million (by the way this doesn’t include $112 million in fees, which have been set aside for the lawyers).  It’s a good first step in doing the right thing.

But let’s put this fund into perspective. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the total amount of funding for research in 2013 was $480 million. Don’t we have this backwards? Shouldn’t we be funding research first? Shouldn’t we be finding ways to help families meet the escalating costs of elder care?

In 2014 the total cost to care for the 5.3 million people who live with dementia in will exceed $172 billion.

The point isn’t to begrudge the NFL players. They play a violent sport and suffer the consequences. The point is, if the NFL can fund what amounts to a private insurance plan, why can’t someone do the same for those families who aren’t as fortunate.

In its plan the NFL has generously added a line item for “medical research and education.” The amount:  $10 million. That’s little more than 1% of the total $765 million fund. And then there are the lawyers with their $112 million in fees.

To all of those associated with the NFL, your squabbling about a few million here and there is disgusting. More than five million people suffer from dementia every day. The problems associated with dementia and related diseases are larger than you can even imagine.