A new law will protect dependent college students from losing their health insurance in the event of serious medical illness.
“Michelle’s Law,” signed by President Bush this month, allows full-time college students to take a year of medical leave without the risk of losing their insurance. The law will become effective October 2009. It only applies to students who are dependants covered under their parent’s health insurance plans.
“Pennsylvania has already done a great job with similar programs, and this is just going to help it,” said Mark Denys, associate director of Student Health Services. “Anything that allows students more health insurance is a good thing.”
The law borrows from a similar state law established in New Hampshire in 2006. It is named after Michelle Morse, a Plymouth State University student who maintained a full course load while undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer in order to keep her insurance. Morse died in 2005, nearly six months after she graduated.
The only other option was paying $550 premiums through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985, which gives workers and families who lose their health benefits the right to continue their group health plans for limited periods of time under certain circumstances.
Several states have passed similar laws since then. A law to expand coverage for dependents was introduced in Pennsylvania this year.
The law does not require insurance companies to cover any new procedures or individuals—it just prohibits them from dropping coverage. A “serious medical illness” must come from mental illness resulting from stress and substance abuse, according to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993
“This [law] pinpointed a very distinct population of people that deserve access to care,” said Keysha Brooks-Coley, associate director of federal relations at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, an advocacy group that lobbied for the law. “This is something we thought was a way we could address access to care at a higher level.”
The university offers student health insurance plans at reduced rates through Independence Blue Cross at the start of each semester. Medical, podiatric and international students are required to have health insurance.
“We usually wind up with 5,000 students enrolled,” said Gerry O’Kane, assistant director of benefits at Human Resources.
Of the 5,000 enrolled, O’Kane said between 1,500 and 2,000 students voluntarily chose between two student plans.
The university doesn’t administer a medical leave, but once students enroll with a plan, they’re enrolled on a six or 12 month basis, O’Kane said. Students keep the insurance whether or not they’re enrolled in school.
In 2006, 7 percent of college students were found to be covered through private health insurance plans, according to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office in March. Sixty-seven percent of college students were covered through employee-sponsored plans.
Nick Pipitone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.