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‘Michelle’s Law’ Moves Step Closer To Aiding Health Coverage

By Kathy Gurchiek  7/25/2008
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A House subcommittee approved a bill July 16, 2008, that would allow seriously ill or injured post-secondary students to take up to one year of medical leave without losing coverage under their parents’ health care plan.

The voice vote by the Committee on Energy and Commerce moved “Michelle’s Law (H.B. 2851) one step closer toward amending the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974.

It would require group health plans and insurance plans in the individual market to continue coverage for up to one year for severely ill students taking a physician-certified medical leave of absence from school.

The committee also adopted an amendment, proposed by subcommittee Chairman Frank Pallone, D.-N.J., that would put the law into effect one year after it is enacted.

The law is inspired by the late Michelle Morse, a full-time college student at Plymouth State University, who was diagnosed with colon cancer, according to Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who sponsored the bill in the House in June 2007.

Her doctors advised the college junior, who was majoring in childhood studies, to cut back on her course load while undergoing chemotherapy. However, doing so would mean losing her family’s health insurance coverage—currently students age 19 to 24 are eligible to keep their parents’ health insurance coverage only if they are full-time students. A full-time student is defined as carrying 12 credit hours, according to a “Michelle’s Law” web site.

She stayed in school after her parents learned they would have to pay close to $1,100 a month more to maintain her health insurance if she took a leave of absence, according to her obituary in The Boston Globe. She died at age 23 in 2005 soon after graduating, but before her death she began to lobby the New Hampshire Legislature to change the law, it reported.

The New Hampshire law passed in June 2006 and applies to state-regulated insurance plans. Some states have enacted similar legislation.

The House bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Castle, R.-Del., has bipartisan support and the backing of such groups as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the National Educational Association. It is based on the New Hampshire law that Michelle’s mother, AnnMarie Morse, worked to create, 

U.S. Senators John E. Sununu,  R.-N.H., Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., have sponsored a similar law in the Senate (S.B. 400), which also has bipartisan support and the backing of a number of national organizations. It would cover plans regulated at the federal level by ERISA and would not impact other state-regulated insurance plans, according to Sununu’s office.

Under H.B. 2851 and S.B. 400, should a student’s parents or caregiver switch coverage, a successor ERISA plan that covers dependent care would have to abide by a student’s approved leave of absence, and summer or semester breaks would not disqualify the medical leave.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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