Goldman: We must change insurance policy

By Gus Bode

A student who lost health coverage after a motorcycle accident served as a tragic realization that the university must change its health insurance policy, interim Chancellor Sam Goldman said Thursday.

After Jessica Cantrell sustained traumatic brain injuries Aug. 23, insurance administrator Jim Hunsaker told her family she was not eligible for coverage because she would not be able to return to classes this semester. Administrators have since worked with the family to find the best solution for Cantrell, but Goldman said the policy needs to change to avoid the problem in the future.

“We’re willing to step forward,” Goldman said. “It’s going to take some time to change the policy. But it’s on notice that we’ve got to change it. We’ve got to do something with it so this does not happen again.”


Students lose university health insurance on the last day they attend class before withdrawal, according to the Student Medical Health Insurance Plan.

Goldman said officials had never considered a scenario such as Cantrell’s, in which she was withdrawn because she is in a coma. The situation spurred him to send the policy to SIU General Counsel Jerry Blakemore for review.

Blakemore said Thursday afternoon he had not yet begun a review but would do so at the chancellor’s request.

Goldman said he asked for no specific changes but wants a review.

“It’s unfortunate that we ran into this incident to show us this, but it did,” he said. “Hopefully Jessica’s situation is one in a million, but even that’s more than we should have. So we’ll try to do what we can for it.”

Cantrell, a senior from Galatia studying French and Spanish, has been in a coma since a pick-up truck struck the motorcycle she was riding during a Coach Kill Cancer Fund event.

She was moved by ambulance Thursday to Kindred Hospital Chicago Northlake after more than a month in intensive care at St. Louis University Hospital, said Jonathan Cantrell, her brother.


Jonathan Cantrell said a change in the university’s health insurance plan was part of what he had in mind when he first alerted the media about his sister’s situation.

“I thought, for Jessica there’s nothing they can do, and let’s hope that this gets out and maybe they’ll change the language in the policy and some other students won’t have to go through this,” he said.

Jonathan Cantrell, who graduated from the SIU School of Law in May, said he was shocked when Hunsaker confirmed the policy to him. He described it as a “phantom policy,” in which any student forced to miss school because of a serious injury is dropped.

Since officials became aware of the situation, they have offered the Cantrell family the option to re-enroll Jessica Cantrell so she could receive insurance coverage.

The Veteran’s Legal Assistance Program at SIUC also offered help Thursday. Director John Lynn said he would work with the family to draft a claim to send to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Jonathan Cantrell said.

Though Jessica Cantrell is an Army veteran, she was not eligible for assistance because she was not treated at a VA facility, he said.

Jonathan Cantrell said the family also pursued help through Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation to apply for Medicaid. If accepted, Medicaid would cover more than the university plan.

The family has also received assistance from Southern Illinois Healthcare, who pointed them to Land of Lincoln and donated $1,000 through the Coach Kill Cancer Fund, Jonathan Cantrell said.

The university will keep in touch with the family to make sure they pursue the best option, said Larry Dietz, vice chancellor for student affairs.

A quick fix should not be expected, Dietz said, but officials are working to make the best out of a bad situation.

“The sad but realistic portion of this is that things like this happen,” he said. “It’s sad when it happens, but again, insurance companies will not write policies and if they did people could not afford policies that would cover all instances.”

Dietz said the university could change the policy, but it could never account for all scenarios.

“We could cover people, for example, 60 days after they withdrew. You could write a policy like that. But it still doesn’t preclude what would happen if something happened to the person on the 61st day,” he said.

Students must realize the specifics of the withdrawal policy, Dietz said, as well as the fact that an increased length of coverage will lead to a more expensive plan.

Jonathan Cantrell said he understood the reason behind the plan as it stands, because the university wants to protect against students who sign up for class just for health insurance. This is not a realistic concern, he said.

“It didn’t make much sense to me because I don’t see someone incurring tuition and fees in student loans just to get health insurance,” he said. “For young people, insurance isn’t that expensive.”

Sean McGahan can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected]