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New Law Ensures Insurance Coverage to College Students During Medical Leave

President Bush signed into law H.R. 2851, “Michelle’s Law,” on October 9, 2008, guaranteeing continuous insurance coverage for college students who must take a leave of absence from their studies due to serious illness. It applies to all dependent students enrolled full-time in post-secondary educational institutions and who require a medical leave of absence for a serious illness or injury. The date the medical leave begins is determined by the student’s physician. The leave can vary, from reducing the course load to part-time status to being absent. The health insurance coverage protects students for up to one year.

The law is named for Michelle Morse, a student at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, Maine, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004. When her physicians recommended she reduce her coarse load during her chemotherapy treatments, Michelle discovered that she would either lose her health insurance or would have to pay expensive C.O.B.R.A. premiums. Michelle was forced to remain a full-time student to stay on her family’s insurance plan. She died in 2005. Michelle’s mother, an educator, convinced the New Hampshire legislature to adopt a similar version of the bill in June 2006.

The new law applies to health plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the Public Health Service Act and the Internal Revenue Code. It will take effect one year from its enactment, in October 2009. The American Cancer Society estimates that it could help an estimated 2,400 college students diagnosed with cancer each year.

Click here to access H.R. 2851, now Public Law No.110-381.


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