High schools now required to provide catastrophic insurance

At high schools around the county and the state, football players are donning their shoulder pads and helmets preparing for the season that begins next week.

Under a new state law, all athletes and their parents can rest a little easier knowing school districts are required to have insurance if the worst happens.

Beginning Jan. 1, high schools must provide catastrophic injury insurance for all student-athletes. The law was inspired by the late Rasul “Rocky” Clark, who played football for Eisenhower High School in the suburb of Blue Island until he was paralyzed from the neck down after a tackle during a game in 2000.

The law says a school’s minimum policy has to cover $3 million in aggregate benefits or five years of coverage – whichever comes first – for injuries at school-sponsored events that total medical expenses over $50,000.

Many schools in the area already had catastrophic insurance coverage before the law went into place.

Many area districts are part of the Cooperative Liability Insurance Consortium. Being part of the consortium helps lower insurance costs, said Woodstock District 200 spokeswoman Carol Smith.

District 200 has been part of the group for at least 12 years, Smith said, and the catastrophic insurance coverage is part of the district’s overall liability insurance coverage.

Huntley High School Athletic Director Michelle Jakubowski said the district has a $5 million catastrophic insurance policy.

District 158 has had the catastrophic insurance for at least 10 years through the same cooperative. Catastrophic injury insurance costs the district $9,250 to cover all students.

“I think it’s great,” Jakubowski said. “I don’t want to see anything happen to student-athletes. Knowing we’re prepared and can help benefit them in some way is great. It’s great to know districts have it and now the state mandates it.”

Even though the inspiration of the law came from a football injury, there’s always a chance someone gets hurt in a noncontact sport, Jakubowski said.

“It can happen anywhere.”

In Harvard District 50, the cost of the $6 million catastrophic insurance policy is $3,500, or $1.42 per student. It kicks in after medical expenses surpass $25,000, said business manager Mary Taylor.

“We covered all students, whether they’re an athlete or not,” Taylor said. “It made more sense to cover everyone to eliminate our risk.”

District spokesman Bill Clow added that having the insurance helps minimize the district’s exposure and liability.

Student insurance is also in place in the district for any kind of injury during a school-sponsored event that leads to less than $25,000 in medical bills.

The district purchased its catastrophic insurance policy Aug. 1, shortly before Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law.

“We knew it was coming down the pike,” Taylor said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

What it means?

Beginning Jan. 1, high schools in the state have to provide $3 million or 5 years of coverage, whichever comes first, in catastrophic insurance benefits for injuries at school-sponsored athletic events that lead to total medical expenses over $50,000.

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