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Davis, California

Monday, October 18, 2021

Michelle’s Law helps seriously ill or injured college students

Senate Bill 1168, known as “Michelle’s Law,” was passed last week by the Senate Health Committee without opposition. Authored by state Senator George Runner (R-Antelope Valley), the bill will allow dependent college students to continue receiving health insurance for up to one year due to serious illness or injury.

Michelle’s Law is named after Michelle Morse, a New Hampshire college student who contracted colon cancer. The doctor’s request that Michelle cut back her course load raised a dilemma: losing full-time student status meant she would need to pay monthly continuation premiums of approximately $550 to keep her policy in effect.

This new bill will allow dependent college students to take up to 12 months’ medical leave with a physician’s signed consent. This applies to students who are covered under their parents’ health insurance plan and means the student can be absent from school or reduce course load to part-time.

Jana Saastad, communications director for Runner, said, “We have full backing of health care insurance companies. Blue Cross for sure, and others have given support.”

The bill still needs to go through appropriation, which means a dollar amount might get assigned to it. The bill will go to the senate floor if appropriation is not needed, then to the Assembly floor. If any amendments are needed, it will go back to Senate; if not, it goes straight to the governor. The earliest the bill will go into effect is New Year’s Day of next year, Saastad said.

At UC Davis, enrolled students are automatically signed up for the Student Health Insurance Plan.

“(SHIP) is a modified PPO plan through Anthem Blue Cross. All registered students are automatically enrolled in SHIP and can elect to waive out of the plan if they have comparable coverage through another plan,” said Todd Atwood, UC Davis Student Health Center Insurance Services Supervisor.

“There are currently 13,663 students, both grad and undergrad, enrolled in SHIP,” he said.

Students who become seriously ill or injured and cannot continue as a full-time student have several choices as to what they can do, depending on the type of insurance they have.

Currently, students who need to go on academic leave of absence may file for the Planned Educational Leave Program for one quarter. “If the student is already enrolled in SHIP, their coverage will continue through the end of that quarter and they can elect to purchase one additional quarter after that if they need to, if they are going on PELP,” Atwood said.

“There is no increase in the cost of their coverage during the quarter, but if they elect to purchase the extra quarter of coverage, it will be at non-student rates.”

Dependent students covered under their parents’ health insurance plan have varied options. Some companies will continue to cover the student for a certain amount of time, while other companies will no longer cover a student who is not of full-time status as soon as they find out the student’s status.

Sophomore microbiology and psychology double-major Allie Sequera-Denyko has endometriosis, a chronic pain condition that can cause such severe pain in her lower abdomen that she must stay in bed. She is covered under her father’s health insurance as long as she is a full-time student. If she loses full-time student status, her father’s health insurance will no longer cover her.

Losing her father’s extensive health insurance coverage is not a feasible idea for Sequera-Denyko.

“Right now, we don’t have to pay a lot when we go to the doctor. We pay $10 for a regular doctor’s visit and $50 for emergency room care, and my tests are covered such as ultrasounds and x-rays and MRIs,” Sequera-Denyko said.

“If I lost (my dad’s) insurance I’d have to find other health insurance, and to take on insurance at such a young age is expensive. I would be paying ridiculous amounts of money, and with my medical condition, I have to go to the doctor when I’m in real bad pain.”

Michelle’s Law will ease many of the worries students may immediately face if there is need to lower units or stop school completely due to medical reasons. Saastad said, “This is a compassionate bill. Students who are seriously ill or injured need to get better and not worry about struggling through school.”

WENDY WANG can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com.

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