Starting next year, Illinois high schools must offer catastrophic insurance coverage for student athletes, under a bill Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law on Sunday.
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The law was inspired by the late Rasul "Rocky" Clark, who played football for Eisenhower High School in the Chicago suburb Blue Island until he was paralyzed from the neck down when he was tackled in 2000 during a game. His care was provided through a $5 million insurance policy held by the school district. When that policy hit its limit, he relied on Medicaid, his mother and donations.
"These injuries are rare, but when they happen it's devastating for young athletes and their families," state Sen. Napoleon Harris, a Harvey Democrat and former NFL player who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. "These students' lives are dramatically changed in cases of catastrophic injuries, and they deserve access to health care coverage."
The legislation takes effect Jan 1.
The law says that a school's minimum policy will cover $3 million in aggregate benefits or five years of coverage -- whatever comes first -- for injuries that total medical expenses over $50,000. The law includes public and private schools and state officials estimate that the cost of the coverage will be no more than $5 a student. Currently, some schools carry insurance for athletes, but it hasn't been mandatory. The Illinois High School Association provides students with this catastrophic insurance for state tournaments.
Harris, a former Northwestern and NFL linebacker, said he was moved by Clark's story.
Clark, who died last year, was a running back for Eisenhower's Cardinals. In a September 2000 game against Oak Forest High School, the junior was grabbed by the shoulders and tackled, and his head hit the ground. Doctors said his neck was broken in two places. Clark was hospitalized for several months and the injuries left him a quadriplegic. Despite his injuries, he later graduated from Eisenhower.
His mother, Annette Clark, attended Sunday's bill signing at her son's alma mater and stood near Quinn.
"It's something that needed," she said, according to Chicago's WBBM. "It'll never bring my son back. But he didn't die in vain."
Quinn deemed it "Rocky's Law."
"Rocky is an inspiration to us all and he wanted to ensure other students are educated about playing it safe on the field," Quinn said in a statement. "I am honored to sign this bill, which should provide more comfort to sports families across Illinois."