If you thought the United States' driven-by-the-insurance-industry "healthcare" system could not get any worse, meet Pickleball. To hear the stories, pickleball is a paddle-based sport played mainly by people who like to kick others off of courts and out of public spaces. My experiences with the sport have primarily involved refusing invitations to play it, and some mild amusement at the Karen-esque reports of behavior that seem to buzz around Pickleball like flies on dog shit. An analyst now claims pickleball injuries comprise an outsized proportion of healthcare resources.
In my neighborhood, the folks playing pickleball have engaged in a weird war with legacy sports folk playing other sports in the same place, and at the same time. The players I know of are all 45 or older, so the injury logic jives with me. My sports are dog walking, bike riding, and pilates these days. I don't know much about the actually perceived offenses in the great Pickleball War — but I won't go anywhere near those courts.
Earlier this month, shares of big health insurance companies fell after UnitedHealth Group warned that healthcare utilization rates were up. At a conference the company had said that it was seeing a higher-than-expected pace of hip replacements, knee surgeries and other elective procedures. In a new note out Monday, UBS Group AG analysts led by Andrew Mok offer a surprising theory about one factor that could be driving a higher pace of injuries: pickleball.
As everyone knows, the racket game has become a booming (and sometimes controversial) sport and business. And per UBS, not only are "Picklers" competing with the public for use of park and court space, they're also driving up healthcare capacity utilization and costs. The firm estimates between $250-500 million in costs attributable to pickle injuries in 2023. So how does it arrive at this number? First, it establishes that growth has been absolutely mammoth, with huge and accelerating numbers of participants. This year is expected to see a 150% jump in players, to 22.3 million. Of this 22.3 million, UBS estimates that seniors make about a third of "core players" or those who play it at least eight times a year. Pickleball players also have incomes that tend to skew high (with almost half having income of over $100K per year.)