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New Federal Law Protects Young Adults and Students

On October 8, 2008, President Bush signed into law H.R. 2851, also known as “Michelle’s Law”. The law is named after Michelle Morse, a college student who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004. In order to maintain her dependent status under her family’s medical insurance, she was forced to carry a full-time course load while undergoing cancer treatment including chemotherapy. The new law addresses just such a situation, that is, where a child, who is considered a dependent on the basis of his or her status as a student at a postsecondary educational institution, requires medical leave.

This legislation guarantees students taking medical leave for up to one year dependent status under their parents’ health insurance plans. Hence they are entitled to coverage during that period of time.

A “medically necessary leave of absence” is defined as one that

  1. Commences while such child is suffering from a serious illness or injury;
  2. Is medically necessary; and
  3. Causes such child to lose student status for purposes of coverage under the terms of the plan or coverage.

Under this law, group health plans or a health insurance issuer that provides coverage in connection with a group health plan are prohibited from terminating the child’s coverage before the date that is the earlier of one year after the first day of the leave of absence or the date on which the coverage would otherwise terminate under the terms of the plan. Significantly, there can be no change in the actual benefits provided.

The law applies to a dependent child who was enrolled in the health plan or coverage on the basis of being a student at a postsecondary institution immediately before the first day of the medical leave of absence.

In order to obtain the benefit of this law, the child’s treating physician must provide a written certification. The law was supported both by The American Cancer Society and the National Education Association.

On June 10, 2009, Governor Rendell signed a similar measure into law in Pennsylvania, which can be found at 40 P.S. § 752. This law will allow uninsured, single, adult children up to age 30 to be covered by their parents’ group health insurance plan. The insurance company can change the premiums due for such children. For the children to continue on their parents’ coverage they must be unmarried, have no dependents, be a resident of the Commonwealth (or a full-time student), and must not be covered by any other insurance policy.

Obviously these laws will have a significant impact on Pennsylvania families, and will especially impact children who more and more often are living with parents while attending school. Students, children, and parents with questions about these laws should contact their health insurance carriers.

The lawyers at Wolf, Baldwin and Associates have extensive experience in civil litigation and defending the rights of individuals. If you are a student who has a question about your insurance claim or coverage, feel free to contact us to learn more about your rights.

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