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Proposed Law To Secure Insurance For Ill Students

This story was written by Gina Akers, The Daily Vidette

On Sept. 25, the United States Senate approved Michelle's Law (H.R. 2851), which would allow college students who have serious illnesses to take up to a year medical leave without being dropped by their parents' insurance.

"If you get diagnosed with cancer as a college kid, the last thing you want to think about is choosing between losing your health insurance and getting the right treatment," Michael Jacobson, Colleges Against Cancer advocacy chair, said. "You should never have to make that decision: 'Do I listen to my insurance company and go back to school just to pay for it, or pay for it on my own?'"

The bill is named after Michelle Morse, a former student at New Hampshire's Plymouth State University who was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. She had to remain a full-time student while undergoing chemotherapy treatment so her family's insurance would pay for it. She eventually lost her life to colon cancer.

The bill would entail students providing written documentation from a medical professional explaining the necessity of the temporary medical leave. It would only apply to full-time students already listed as dependents on health plans and would prevent insurance companies from dropping coverage, but not require them to cover new procedures or new individuals.

Jacobson, a junior political science major at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, is excited about the amount of effort that college students put into getting the bill passed.

"We had thousands of petitions sent into the Senate about this issue and we had even more phone calls and e-mails sent," Jacobson said. "We want kids to realize that on an issue like this, they really can make a difference in government.

"It shows that college kids can take up a cause and get a federal law passed that affects most of us."

Kara Nottelmann, Relay for Life co-chair at Illinois State University, sees the bill as a victory for this age group.

"It promotes the fact that we do have a voice and that we can promote changes and make progress. I think it's really great for our generation," Nottelmann, a junior human resource management major, said.

Colleges Against Cancer, a nationwide association of college students, faculty and staff, is devoted to eradicating cancer by enacting the programs and mission of the American Cancer Society.

If Michelle's Law is passed, it could help the approximately 2,400 college students who will be diagnosed with cancer this year.

"Most laws we hear about usually affect people of the older generation," Nottelmann said. "The fact that this law affects college students really hits closer to home."

Illinois State's Student Insurance manager, Bonnie Crutchley, is not sure how much of an impact this new bill will have on ISU students. She said a lot of insurance companies already had clauses stating disabled students could stay on their family's plan if they could not go to school or a get a job.

According to Crutchley, ISU's insurance offers protection to those who still need health coverage but can no longer go to school. They can switch from a group plan to an individual plan, allowing them to be insured for up to 12 months after withdrawing from the university.

"They would do that when they are diagnosed with something and cannot continue being a student but still need medical coverage," Crutchley said. "Students that are taking at least nine credit hours are part of the student group plan available to all students."

Nearly 16,000 ISU students take advantage of the university's insurance plan. Crutchley said less than 100 students per year need to switch to an individual plan due to a conditin that does not allow them to continue schooling.