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Health bill provides additional protection for students

December 13, 2007

A recent health bill signed by Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle will prevent students from having to make a choice between their health and their education.

Prior to the legislation, college students were unable to take a leave of absence from their studies due to an illness, or they could possibly lose their insurance coverage. With the potential of becoming uninsured, students were faced with a dilemma: to pursue a better state of health, or to maintain a full credit load to meet the “full-time student” requirement to stay insured. In some instances, students are unable to return to school because their money is used to pay off medical expenses, and there is little money left to pay tuition.

Now that the law has been approved, students will be given the option of taking a leave of absence from school for up to one year because of an illness. Health insurance providers will not be able to drop the student from their health coverage. The bill provides a year for students to regain their health and gives students a year to search for a different insurance provider if necessary.

According to the Wisconsin Radio Network Web site, the need for a bill regarding full time students and insurance became relevant by a UW-Marinette student, Zach Grun. Grun had two surgeries and did not feel ready to manage classes until a later time. He was however, required to sustain his full time student status or run the risk of losing his health insurance. Lawmakers were also motivated by New Hampshire’s Michelle’s Law, which came into affect from the dilemma of Michelle Morse. Morse passed away from colon cancer in 2005, but also was required to take on a full course load while she faced treatment, just so she didn’t lose her health insurance.

According to Alice Reilly-Myklebust, Director of Student Health Services and Counseling Services, the bill will prove to be beneficial for insured students.

“This is often an issue for students and so we are pleased about the bill and the support and protection it provides for college students. Of course, it doesn’t address the issue of uninsured or underinsured students,” Myklebust said.

Although the legislation is relevant to UW-River Falls students who have health insurance, uninsured or underinsured students, could face the aforementioned choice between education and their health. Lori Otto, a UWRF Student Health Nurse, says students with a lack of insurance are common in River Falls.

“Unfortunately, many of our students do not have insurance in which case if they have a medical expense they often will have to use their tuition money to pay the charges,” Otto said. “The bill that was passed does nothing to help these students. Health insurance is costly, and those without the means to pay for a plan with good coverage and low deductible are often faced with the same dilemma as those without insurance at all.”

Otto has not experienced an instance where a student has been seriously ill and had to drop out. However, she said there have been situations where she felt a student would have benefited more from taking a semester off to take care of their health. With the threat of losing health insurance, the students chose to finish the semester.

“My guess is that not only their GPA suffered but also their recovery would have taken longer because of the stress,” Otto said.

UWRF students have caught wind of the passed legislation and feel that it is favorable for students.

“I think that’s awesome,” UWRF senior Jason Chorba said. “It’s about time. Students shouldn’t be punished for a serious illness. Students don’t have a lot of money and doctors are expensive. Since we are a disadvantaged demographic, there should be statutes and legislation that protects us.”

Wisconsin has taken a step towards protecting its students by encouraging them to not give up on their education, but to also take care of their health if necessary. For the uninsured and underinsured, Otto has speculated the possibility of more affordable health coverage becoming available in the future.