Could carrying lifesaving drug cost first responders their life insurance?
As the opioid crisis claimed hundreds of victims in the suburbs, and tens of thousands nationwide, cartridges of the overdose-reversing agent naloxone became nearly as essential a tool for law enforcement officers as a gun and a badge.
Dozens of lives have been saved across the suburbs over the past five years because police officers -- often the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose -- are equipped with the drug.
But now there are concerns that obtaining naloxone could cost police and their fellow first responders, along with nurses and other health care professionals, their life insurance.
Those concerns -- and a number of such cases in other states -- prompted South suburban state Rep. Margo McDermed to introduce a bill in Springfield protecting the insurance coverage of police, EMTs, health care professionals, and even the parents and loved ones of opioid users who carry naloxone.
The legislation, which now has Rosemont Republican state Rep. Brad Stephens among its sponsors, would amend the Illinois Insurance Code to prevent a life insurance company from denying or limiting coverage -- or charging higher rates -- for people solely because they have obtained naloxone.
McDermed, a Republican from Mokena, told us this week she drafted the bill after an EMT from her 37th House district told her she'd been denied coverage because she had a prescription for naloxone.
"Just because someone has this doesn't mean they're an addict and an insurance risk," McDermed said. "This bill would put the insurance companies in a position where they have to ask some questions first (before denying coverage)."
A similar measure is pending in the U.S. House, and other states, including Massachusetts and New York, already have told insurance companies they can't deny coverage just because someone carries naloxone.
"In the midst of a national opioid crisis, it is common sense for our nurses and first responders who work every day to keep New Yorkers safe to carry naloxone," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in September. "Denying (first responders) insurance coverage for doing their job to save lives is unacceptable, and today we correct this discriminatory practice."
When we asked Buffalo Grove Police Chief Steve Casstevens about it this week, he said he was "dumbfounded" by the possibility a first responder could lose life insurance coverage for carrying a lifesaving tool like naloxone.
"I can't figure out any reason why," he said.
Casstevens, who's also president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said he's unaware of any instances of a local police officer losing coverage, but he intends to raise the issue next time he meets with fellow association leaders.
Officials at the Lake County sheriff's office, which in 2014 became among the first suburban police agencies to equip deputies with naloxone, said they do not know of any staff members denied or dropped by life insurance carriers.
"We do, however, support legislation which would allow our staff to continue carrying naloxone to assist in the lifesaving efforts of individuals suffering an opioid overdose -- without having any sort of negative impact on the insurance coverage of our staff," Sgt. Chris Covelli told us in an email. "Naloxone has become an essential tool for area first responders, as they are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic."
For now, McDermed's bill is sitting in the state House's Rules Committee. She expects it to garner bipartisan support and move smoothly through the General Assembly. We'll update you on its progress through the Capitol.
Shooting witness sues cops
A Waukegan woman who watched as police fatally shot her boyfriend after he struck an officer with his car last year is now suing the city and members of its police force, claiming they failed to provide needed care for her after the traumatic event.
Paige McEwan is seeking undisclosed compensatory and punitive damages through the lawsuit filed last Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago.
The suit alleges stems from a Feb. 3, 2019, confrontation between McEwan's boyfriend, Asuncion J. Gomez-Guerrero, and a pair of Waukegan police officers called to investigate a domestic disturbance on the city's northwest side.
Authorities say that when police attempted to prevent Gomez-Guerrero and McEwan from leaving the scene, Gomez-Guerrero drove his car at an officer, striking him in the leg. The officer fired three shots into the car, killing the 35-year-old driver.
After an investigation by Illinois State Police, Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim in August declared the shooting justified.
The suit, however, alleges police used excessive force, then refused to provide McEwan with medical treatment after the shooting.
"Rather than call an ambulance for the plaintiff or transport her to the hospital, the defendant officers had plaintiff taken back to the Waukegan police station where she was interrogated despite her need for obvious medical attention," the suit states.
Reform efforts get a boost
Efforts to reform Cook County's criminal justice system received a helping hand this week when the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded the county a $2.5 million grant, adding to the $1.9 million already pledged to the work by the foundation.
County officials say the money will help fund a number of projects.
• Attorneys and court staffs will review cases of pretrial defendants with low bails to determine what the barriers are that prevent them from posting bail.
• Defendants with repeat arrests in which substance abuse or mental health is an underlying factor could be provided peer mentors to help them follow through on treatment plans and attend court dates as required.
• Defendants in nonviolent drug cases could be offered services to help them seek employment and avoid actions that harm communities.
"Today's announcement brings more help to individuals to show them alternatives to their actions as we will enhance services for substance abuse, mental health and employment," Chief Judge Timothy Evans said.
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