BLISTER+ in place to assist with health care costs

By Than Acuff

Even with “really good” health insurance, there can be costs associated with injuries incurred while recreating. Sometimes you end up paying $3,500 out of pocket. Sometimes, you can pay as much as $11,000 out of pocket and sometimes, even more. 

Mt. Crested Butte resident Jonathan Ellsworth is hoping to change that, or at least help.

Ellsworth started Blister, an outdoor gear review company, 13 years ago with its’ headquarters in the Elevation Hotel at the base of Crested Butte Mountain. The company’s main focus has been offering honest reviews of outdoor gear: “At Blister, our commitment is to be as in-depth and honest as possible about the gear we review, all of the time.”

And over those 13 years, his company has gained international notoriety and includes producing a podcast, an annual Buyer’s Guide, the Blister Speaker Series in conjunction with Western Colorado University and the Blister Summit, a winter outdoor industry gathering at Crested Butte Mountain Resort every February.

Now, he’s taken on the insurance world.

Three years ago, Ellsworth crashed on his mountain bike resulting in cracked ribs and a shoulder injury and ended up costing him $8,000 out of pocket. And he, like many of us, thought he had pretty good health insurance.

And that sparked an idea.

Ellsworth’s crash and subsequent medical bills set him on an additional devotion. While still doing what Blister started out doing, Ellsworth set out to find a solution to the health insurance woes so many people encounter when injured recreating.

Ellsworth jumped into the insurance world and after meetings upon meetings with insurance companies, he’s come up with BLISTER+, underwritten by Mutual of Omaha. It’s a supplemental accident insurance that covers injuries incurred when recreating. The list of activities includes most, if not all, of what Gunnison County residents, and similar communities throughout the world, participate in. Biking, skiing (both at ski areas and in the backcountry), climbing, kayaking, hiking, fishing and many more are all covered.

And while there are similar accident insurance policies available with competitive rates and competitive coverages, BLISTER+ differs. For one, the $395 per year cost includes your membership to Blister for access to more gear reviews, personalized gear recommendations from Blister reviewers, gear deals and discounts among the other benefits associated with a Blister membership.

With BLISTER+ you get up to $25,000 coverage per injury, even within the same year. For example, if you get injured mountain biking in the summer, you have up to $25,000 to cover your existing insurance policy deductible, co-pay expenses, associated physical therapy beyond what your insurance policy will cover and other expenses associated with the incident. Get hurt that same year skiing and you have $25,000 coverage for that as well, no matter where you are.

“This coverage is good anywhere on Earth,” says Ellsworth.

Hurt skiing in Alaska? Covered. Hurt climbing in Patagonia? Covered. Hurt road biking in Europe? Covered, and up to $25,000 each and every time.

“There are no in-network, out-of-network restrictions,” says Ellsworth.

Much like other accident insurance policies, the $25,000 can also be used to cover backcountry helicopter evacuations and ambulance transport. Several helicopter medical evacuation operations that service the Gunnison Valley are free or do not pursue further payment after a patient’s health insurance deductible has been exhausted, but there is no guarantee in other parts of the country and the world. 

Gary Shondeck with Shondeck Financial Services and Insurance has been in the insurance business for 37 years. Shondeck points out there are current health insurance policies now available for some people that are affordable with low monthly payments and a low deductibles. But others, depending on several factors, have deductibles that can be in the neighborhood of $9,000. 

Shondeck has seen similar accident insurance policies come and go and points out there are other accident policy providers currently available. He sees BLISTER+ as another option for additional coverage in conjunction with a traditional health insurance plan for some people.

“Individually, this could be a good plan for some people, based upon the individual’s situation,” says Shondeck.

Ellsworth thinks of that injury he had three years ago before BLISTER+ was even an idea.

“If I had BLISTER+ back then, I would have paid zero dollars,” says Ellsworth.

Dr. Gloria Beim is an orthopedic surgeon with Gunnison Valley Orthopedics and believes BLISTER+ could really help a lot of patients she sees.

“For the 95-percent of the patients I see that go hard in the mountains, it’s a no-brainer,” says Beim. “A really bad injury, with additional physical therapy, can cost you tens of thousands of dollars at the end of the day.”

Beim does want to point out that BLISTER+ looks to be a good idea as supplemental insurance, not as an alternative to traditional health insurance.

“I think it’s outstanding as long as people understand it doesn’t take the place of insurance,” says Beim. “It’s a wonderful adjunct to regular insurance, it’s not a replacement for insurance.”

BLISTER+ has no age limit to the policy and includes coverage for kids, even if they’re injured during a bike race or freeskiing event.

Furthermore, Ellsworth sees BLISTER+ as a nice option for small businesses and nonprofits for their staff.

“We’re hearing from a lot of small businesses that this is a good value add for their staff and when looking for employees,” says Ellsworth.

Ellsworth is committed to keeping the costs down but at the end of the day, it comes down to participation. As a result, he is following his contacts with outdoor industry companies to get the bigger players in the outdoor sports world to offer this to their employees and their sponsored athletes and is currently in discussions with Patagonia, Atomic as well as the North Face.

“I want to get this to the corporate level,” says Ellsworth. “My goal is to have 100,000 BLISTER+ members in five years. I’m going to fight like hell to not increase premiums. That’s going to be an annual fight, but I feel good about it.”

All the information can be found online with a full description of what’s covered at Ellsworth understands this might not be for everyone but probably a good idea for a lot of people.

“I’m not trying to push this on anyone who doesn’t need it,” says Ellsworth. “But if you really look, the vast majority do. We are on a mission to change the culture of outdoor sports.” 

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