Rasul “Rocky” Clark. Pic courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.
Rasul “Rocky” Clark was a backup running back for Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Illinois. After the starter separated shoulder during a game in 2000, Rocky finally had his chance to get a few carries. Four plays in, a tackle left him with two broken vertebrae and a damaged spinal cord.
Despite this, the newly-quadriplegic Rocky managed to thrive, pursuing interests in art and poetry. His success was due in no small part thanks to the excellent medical care he received thanks to an insurance policy provided by Community High School District 218. The costs of services like round-the-clock nursing care added up, however, and this policy had a $5 million lifetime cap. The insurance agency, Health Special Risk Inc, summarily dropped him.
The results were heartbreaking. From the Chicago Tribune:
At the time his policy ended, Clark said he felt he was being punished for living too long. Many quadriplegics die within 10 years after their injury because of lung or kidney failure. But Clark was able to thrive, in part because of the meticulous health care he received, his physician and family members said.
After losing coverage, Clark relied on Medicaid, some state support and his mother, Annette, who did her best to perform the work formerly handled by three nurses.
The loss of coverage also meant Clark could no longer afford to have helpers take him to his former school to give pep talks or volunteer as a coach. He had hoped to enroll in college art classes but could not pay for them after the policy expired.
Rocky passed away on Thursday at age 27.
The failure here is the failure of all of us. When we allow health care to be doled out based almost solely on profits, we participate in a culture that has little compunction about kicking a man like Rocky to the curb when he gets “too expensive,” too harsh on the bottom-line. This man–this artist, poet, and athlete who loved his mother and had a megawatt smile–deserved to be treated as more than number on the liabilities ledger of Health Special Risk Inc.
Angry and vitriolic conversations about the abstract ideas surrounding health care frequently miss the mark. The heart of the issue is not about pie in the sky philosophies and ideologies; it’s about real people, people like Rocky.