Healthcare Hoodwinking Begs Bigger Questions

January 20, 2022

Six months in the slammer is what Clinton Portis just scored himself. A former NFL running back for Washington and Denver,  the nine-year veteran was recently sentenced for the role he played in a fraud scheme that stole nearly $3 million from a health fund established to help retired players.

Portis did not operate alone. He has “good” company in 14 other indicted players accused of the same criminal plays from 2017 to 2018 when they submitted fake claims for medical equipment either not used or not delivered.

Sound familiar?

Brotherhood of Bad Decisions

Fast Forward to October 2021 when all major news platforms reported that 18 NBA players, including four NBA Champions, were charged with medical fraud of over $3 million. Led by 2009 top draft pick Terrence Williams, he and the other former players submitted false claims of medical services rendered to a player-funded insurance plan. The goal was to be reimbursed for medical and dental visits which never occurred. The players shortsightedly placed these claims while out of the country or state where the services should have occurred; this gaffe led authorities to unveil the scheme.

Beyond their illegal extracurriculars, you might wonder what else Portis, Williams and their partners in crime shared in common. If you guessed enviable earnings busted by bankruptcy and/or bad decisions – you’d have a W in your column. In fact, all struggled with their finances once their careers ended.

In the Know

Like the 33 men charged and/or convicted in both leagues, former first round NBA draft pick Eddy Curry joined the league straight out of high school and struggled to maintain his finances after his NBA career ended. Bad investments, unreturned loans, and lavish purchases while playing crumpled their bank accounts including Curry’s. Yet, unlike those players, Curry didn’t  resort to fraud, despite being introduced to the scheme. He was able to escape the demise of the others because his wife knew how to legally utilize the player-funded National Basketball Players Association’s (NBPA) retired players’ medical insurance plan. Launched in July of 2016, the NBPA started a fund that gives retired players up to $400,000 to cover their medical expenses. Curry, due to his wife’s advice, and many other retired players have legitimately used this fund to support their families since leaving the league.

Critical Questions

Not excusing the criminal actions of these players, however, one has to wonder what differentiates Curry’s choices and path from those of his peers? In fact, there are a series of questions that could and should be answered: Did the players not know how to best use the health care fund? Who could have helped these players avoid the felonious behavior? How can other players ensure they don’t end up in this kind of headline? When does the blame shift from desperate players to the organizations that dole out large salaries with limited financial education?

The Final Query

Curry had a knowledgeable family member to advise him and ultimately help him abstain from criminal action. Certainly not the case for all. If the 18 NBA players or 15 NFL players, had the support of their league, their player’s association, a CPA or an attorney – would the headlines exist?

Is it a matter of time or is there a reason that these headlines do not exist in other professional sports like tennis, baseball, and soccer. How can leagues learn from each other to prevent further financial mismanagement?

All in all, the circumstances are both sad and frustrating, but also avoidable. Beneath all of the layers of questions, a robust and responsible financial education program could have saved a good number of these players from turning their seats on the bench to a seat in a courtroom.

The final question remains, what is being done to make sure all professional athletes get the financial education programming obviously needed so this does not happen again?