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Kadner: ‘Rocky Law’ awaits Quinn’s signature

Rasul “Rocky” Clark former Eisenhower High School football player was paralyzed from neck down when he was tackled during game

Rasul “Rocky” Clark, a former Eisenhower High School football player, was paralyzed from the neck down when he was tackled during a game in 2000, He died in 2012 at age 27. | File Photo

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Updated: May 22, 2013 4:00PM



For the first time in Illinois history, schools would be required to make sure that student athletes are covered by catastrophic health insurance under a bill that passed the House on Tuesday.

The measure, which would cover all high school athletes, previously passed the Senate and now goes to the governor for his signature.

“You’re talking about the Rocky Law, and Gov. (Pat) Quinn will definitely sign it,” Brooke Anderson, the governor’s spokeswoman, said.“He attended Rocky Clark’s wake, has spoken to his mother and believes this law providing catastrophic insurance is needed to protect student athletes.”

Inspired in large part by the saga of Rasul “Rocky” Clark, an Eisenhower High School football player who became a quadriplegic as a result of an on-field injury, the bill falls short of providing the level of coverage its most ardent advocates hoped to obtain.

“The key (to passing the bill) unfortunately were the changes that we made,” said state Rep. Will Davis (D-Hazel Crest), the chief sponsor of the bill in the House.

Last year, Davis sponsored a measure requiring a high school district to provide $7.5 million in catastrophic medical coverage for student athletes. That measure failed in the Senate.

The bill that passed this week requires only $3 million in coverage, a limit of five years and would not apply to the first $50,000 in medical bills.

Many high school athletes are from low-income families that have no health insurance. Clark’s medical bills exceeded more than $5 million over a 10-year period.

“I used the experience of Rocky Clark and his family as a benchmark in writing my original bill,” Davis said. “These are very expensive, very expensive, injuries. And given the state of medical science today, life can be prolonged a very long time for people suffering from catastrophic injuries.

“But without the changes that were made, reducing the coverage and recognizing that some students are already insured by their families, the opponents would not have supported the bill and it would not have passed.”

The chief sponsor of the Senate bill was another Southland legislator, Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-Flossmoor), a former college and professional football player.

Annette Clark, of Robbins, Rocky’s mother, said that while she was happy that legislation passed requiring catastrophic coverage, she was disappointed that it didn’t provide more money.

“We went through $5 million in 10 years, more than $1 million in the first year,” Mrs. Clark said.

“I don’t want any student, any family, to ever go through what we went through.

“My hope is that this would be a start and that we could work in the future to expand the coverage. But I am pleased that the bill passed.”

As a student in Community High School District 218 (which includes Eisenhower, Richards and Shepard high schools), Rocky Clark actually had catastrophic coverage. The district is one of the few in Illinois that provides catastrophic insurance not only to student athletes but all of its students.

This year, all 6,000 students in District 218 were covered by a $7.5 million policy at a total cost of $9,000, according to district Supt. John Byrne. That means for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, $1.50, every student in the district is covered.

Byrne said the cost would have been lower had the state created a group insurance pool for all the schools in Illinois.

The legislation passed this week, Senate Bill 2178, would require the Illinois High School Association to purchase a group insurance plan that all schools could participate in.

Schools would be allowed to purchase catastrophic insurance for all their students from that group plan or they could provide their own policies. Under the law, Chicago could self-insure its students. Proof of insurance would be provided by schools to the IHSA.

The IHSA provides catastrophic insurance for athletes participating in its state tournaments, but there’s no requirement that athletes be covered during regularly scheduled games or events.

The Gridiron Alliance, a not-for-profit charity that provides financial resources to families of seriously injured student athletes, was one of the first to advocate for a law requiring catastrophic coverage.

Don Grossnickel, one of the organization’s founders, tried to persuade the IHSA to increase ticket prices at events by $1 to raise money for the insurance program or to let the alliance solicit donations at a booth during state tournaments, but the IHSA refused.

While Gossnickel was pleased the bill passed, he was concerned about a lack of a clear mandate that school districts pay for the insurance for athletes and the $3 million ceiling on coverage. There appears to be a loophole that would allow districts to ask students to pay for such medical coverage.

Grossnickel noted that when the federal Affordable Care Act takes effect, it might assist in paying much of the long-term medical costs of catastrophic injuries.

“The greatest expenses tend to occur at the outset of such injuries,” he said.

I have stated in previous columns that it seems irresponsible to put young athletes in harm’s way without making sure they are properly covered by insurance.

And I believe this law should have included mandatory catastrophic insurance for grade school athletes.

While some critics of the law may see this is an unfunded mandate on school districts, I believe schools shouldn’t be allowed to have sports teams without adequately insuring their students.

The legislation does not spell out how schools would raise the funds for the insurance policies.

It seems clear to me that making sure that children are protected is the adult thing to do.



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