College Students Keep Health Insurance While On Leave


A new federal law allows full-time college students to keep their health insurance coverage without fear of being dropped if they have to leave school because of health reasons. The law, which is named Michelle’s Law after former college student Michelle Morse, was signed by then-President W. Bush one year ago and went into effect on October 9, 2009.

Many college students have health insurance through their parents’ policy while they attend school. Before Michelle’s Law was passed, students who needed to take a leave from their studies because of health reasons risked being dropped from a parent’s policy. To avoid losing their coverage, students had a choice: they could leave school and take the chance of losing their health insurance, or stay in school even though they were seriously ill. Michelle Morse chose the latter option, but lost the fight.

Michelle Morse was a student at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire when she received a diagnosis of colon cancer in 2003. Although her doctor recommended that she reduce her school load while she underwent chemotherapy, she decided to remain in school when she learned that she would either lose her health insurance or have to pay C.O.B.R.A. premiums, which were approximately $550 per month and more than the family could afford.


Michelle died of colon cancer in 2005 at age 22, and her mother decided that other college students should not have to risk losing their health insurance if they become ill and need to take medical leave or cut back on their studies. To honor her daughter’s memory, AnnMarie Morse sought the help of state legislators, and with the support of several medical and professional organizations, she took her case to the New Hampshire legislature.

On June 22, 2006, New Hampshire became the first state to sign Michelle’s Law into law. Ten other states soon followed suit, until President George W. Bush signed HR 2851, which made Michelle’s Law a federal law to become effective on October 9, 2009. Michelle’s Law applies to college students who are covered under their parents’ health insurance policy. It state that:

  • Full-time college students (at least 12 credits) can take up to 12 months medical leave
  • The term “medical leave” can mean a student is absent from school or reduces his/her course load and becomes a part-time student
  • The student’s physician determines the date medical leave begins

College students who have health insurance through means other than their parents’ policy are not eligible for the benefit provided by Michelle’s Law. Students can choose from university-sponsored plans or explore health insurance options from private insurers. Some health insurance providers offer special plans for college students.

Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2009
Michelle’s Law website


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