A Healthy Decision: New law protects college students

Vinny Laravello, Bobby Barranger and Joe Prumachuk (left to right), as well as other students across the country, are now protected under Michelle’s Law if they acquire a long-term illness.

by Julia Ernst

President Bush has signed a new bill into law that protects full-time college students from losing their health insurance in the event that a serious illness forces them to drop out of school for treatment.

Michelle’s Law, HR 2851, is named for the late Michelle Morse. She was a student at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire when, in 2004, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. When she dropped out of school to undergo treatment, she discovered that her family’s health insurance covered her only if she was a full-time student. Because of this, Morse had to re-enroll in school while undergoing chemotherapy in order to receive her family’s health insurance. Morse ultimately died of cancer.

“What this law will do is allow full-time college students to stay on their parents’ health care plans without the burden of a full-time course load,” said Trista Hargrove of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

The law allows full-time students to take up to 12 months of medical leave without the risk of losing their health coverage. It applies to students who are considered dependents and are covered under the health insurance of their parents. A health care professional must provide written documentation to the insurance company, explaining the need for a medical leave of absence and when the leave should begin.

“This is a valuable but very limited law to expand coverage for young people,” said Dr. Anne Carroll, a finance professor who specializes in health care administration. “It only applies to students that had full-time status and then became seriously ill. Young adults represent a significant proportion of the uninsured population. Allowing parents to get coverage for their young adult children as dependents on their health insurance policy who are part-time students would further help reduce the rate of uninsurance for young people.”

Before the signing of this national law, similar legislation existed in Colorado, Utah and seven other states. ACS CAN estimates that Michelle’s Law could affect up to 2,400 college students diagnosed with cancer in 2008.

“In order to defeat this disease, we need to ensure access to quality health care,” Hargrove said. “Michelle’s Law is one step to ensuring this goal. Instead of being forced to choose between their education and their health, students can focus on getting better.”

Dr. John Adamovics, an assistant professor of chemistry who also works in the pharmaceutical industry, sees only positives in the approval of Michelle’s Law and a limited burden to the health care system.

“I don’t see any downside to this,” Adamovics said. “It will take a tremendous burden off of parents, who are already stretched thin with the burden of paying tuition. The burden it adds to the system would probably be minimal. If anything, there might be a slight percentage increase of additional medication.”

However, there is no mention within the bill of students who have a plan through their school. Valerie Kamin, director of student health services, explained that the new law will really have no impact on the school-insured student population.

“The insurance goes into effect Aug. 15, but [the insurance company] will not pay a claim until the student has been in school for 30 days,” Kamin explained. “After 30 days, you have the insurance until Aug. 15 of the following year. If that student stays in school for 30 days, they are covered under school insurance.”

Current Rider students see this bill as a very positive addition to the health insurance system.

“I think it’s a good thing that they’re letting students stay on their parents’ health insurance,” said sophomore Halley Goldstein. “I think it’s ridiculous that, if someone’s that sick, that they would have to stay in school to get coverage.”

Junior Nicole Addesso also sees Michelle’s Law as a great benefit to college students.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Addesso said. “Why should a student be penalized in the event of a serious illness? This way, a student doesn’t have to worry about the burden of a full course load and medical bills. I think it’s a good thing as long as they define a serious illness and a medical leave of absence, so that people don’t abuse the system.”

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