Law ensures sick students keep care

Legislation to protect sick college students from being dropped by their parents’ health insurance took effect Friday in the midst of one of the fiercest health care debates to ensnare Washington.

Michelle’s Law, as the legislation is known, allows college students to take up to a year of medical leave from school without being dropped from their parents’ health insurance plan. The legislation is named after a Plymouth State University student in New Hampshire who was forced to remain a full-time student while battling colon cancer so she would remain insured.

An estimated 67 percent of college students are covered by their parents’ insurance, according to a 2008 report released by the Government Accountability Office. Previously, students between the ages of 19 and 24 would remain covered as long as they maintained a full-time student status. Those who could not maintain that status could lose their insurance.

The legislation comes into effect as lawmakers battle over a health care overhaul. More than 46.3 million people were uninsured in 2008, according to a recently released report by the U.S. Census Bureau, and according to the GAO report, part-time students and older college students are among the groups more likely to be uninsured.

Most undergraduates receive coverage from their parents’ plans and students interviewed said they intend to remain on them until graduation. GW’s Student Health Service only accepts cash or payments through the University Student Health Insurance Plan, so the exact number of GW students without insurance is unclear. University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said 2,985 students used that plan last year, but that about 80 percent of that number were graduate students.

“Many undergraduates are covered under their parents’ health insurance plans,” Sherrard said in an e-mail. “Thus, they do not use the plan as readily as graduate students.”

Freshman Ryan Petitt said he’s currently covered by his parents’ insurance, and will receive help from them once he graduates.

“I plan to attend medical school, so my parents will help and I’ll have their support,” Petitt said. “Even if they didn’t help, I’d still get health insurance for sure, but I’d be worried about paying for it.”

Senior McKenzie Wilson said she’s currently covered under her parents’ insurance, but will have to think creatively once she graduates.

“If the job I get can provides health care, I’ll be insured,” Wilson said. “If not, I’m not sure. If it’s only for a few months, I might go uninsured, but if it’s longer than that, I’d get private insurance.”

Wilson said her impending departure from her parents’ coverage and the health care debate – which has sparked increasingly polarized mindsets across the country – has led her to support universal health care.

“We need our country to succeed. But I don’t necessarily believe the plan out there can be done,” Wilson said.

Freshman Rishi Singhal said he’s covered by his parents’ plan, but that students do not tend to talk about insurance.

“The kids I know of are all on their parents’ plans,” Singhal said. “I’ve never had a conversation about health care.”

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