to Health Insurance for College Students".
Mom honors daughter's life
with effort to change insurance laws
By Holly Ramer
December 23, 2005
CONCORD, N.H. - Before colon cancer took her life, Michelle
Morse tried not to let it take over.
"I just don't want to be known as 'the cancer girl!'"
she wrote in her journal last April. "It's just
not me. "The aspiring teacher continued to attend
Plymouth State University full-time during her illness,
often wearing a chemotherapy pump on her hip to class
or when she did her student teaching at a Manchester
But by the time she died in November, Morse, 22, had
become a reluctant celebrity, lending her name and support
to a bill aimed at sparing others at least one of the
agonizing decisions she faced: whether or not to stay
Though her doctors recommended she reduce her courseload,
Morse maintained her full-time schedule in order to
keep her health insurance. She was covered under her
mother's plan, which required her to be a full-time
student or to pay about $550 a month to remain covered.
She talked about her feelings in a journal that her
family allowed The Associated Press to read.
"I'm scared for my mom and dad," she wrote
in December 2003, just after she was diagnosed. "I
want to make this easier on them."
Michelle's mother, AnnMarie, has become the driving
force to enact "Michelle's Law." The bill
would require health insurance companies that cover
college students under their parents' plans to continue
the coverage if a student takes a medical leave of absence.
"I have a lot of energy," AnnMarie Morse said
in a recent interview. "I knew the odds were against
us ... but I knew I had to do something else because
not only did I have my two children in college, but
every other college child became my child."
A House committee unanimously recommended the bill last
month, and the House will vote on it next month.
Other states, meanwhile, have taken a broader approach
by allowing young adults to remain on their parents'
plans longer regardless of whether they are in college.
Those laws are aimed at addressing the nation's fastest
growing uninsured population: young people ages 18 to
24, said Laura Tobler, a health policy analyst at the
National Conference of State Legislatures.
Children typically lose health care coverage under their
parents' plans when they turn 19, though full-time students
often are given an exception. But at least 12 states
have considered or enacted laws broadening the definition
of dependents in the last year, Tobler said.
In Utah, for example, dependents are covered until their
26th birthdays, regardless of whether they are enrolled
in school. Starting Jan. 1, Colorado residents up to
age 25 can be covered under their parents' plans as
long as they are unmarried, financially dependent on
their parents or living with them.
New York, which already has a law like the one proposed
in New Hampshire, is considering raising the maximum
age for dependents from 23 to 25. A New Jersey bill
would allow dependents up to age 30 to remain on their
parents' plans, though companies could charge more for
The industry generally hasn't opposed such changes because,
aside from expensive cases like Michelle Morse's, carriers
are getting paid higher family-plan premiums to cover
the healthiest segment of the population, said Rep.
Will Infantine, R-Manchester, an insurance agent who
sponsored the New Hampshire bill.
"Demographically, this is a profitable part of
their business," he said.
Some lawmakers initially opposed any new mandate on
insurers, he said, but came around because the bill
applies only to carriers that already offer family plans.
Insurance companies estimate that at most, six students
a year would be affected by the bill.
"You buy health insurance to take care of you when
something happens," said Infantine, whose father
died of colon cancer. "To buy into a contract and
then get hurt and have it terminate is not really not
what insurance is supposed to be about."
Rep. Lee Quandt, R-Exeter, said some viewed the bill
as elitist because it would help only people who could
afford to send their children to college.
"I met Michelle and she is not an elitist kid,"
Michelle was having surgery for what doctors believed
was a twisted ovary when they discovered she had advanced
"I want to live a long life so badly," she
wrote on Christmas Eve 2003. "I want to have a
family, many Christmases and outlive my parents. I am
always afraid that I may not be able to do any of that.
I have learned to live each day to the fullest and go
to bed happy each night."
Though she believed she would go into remission, there
were dark moments.
"For the first time I actually cried by myself,"
she wrote in January 2004. "I am just so frustrated.
Why does this have to happen to me? It's not fair. I
don't know how much more my family and I can handle.
This should not happen to anyone. Why can't anyone find
a cure for this? Why is everyone dying and no one can
find a cure to save people. Why is God even doing this
to people? Why is he making families suffer? Why is
he taking innocent, loving people with families and
everything going for them?"
Quandt, whose son Matthew serves on the House Commerce
Committee with him, said Michelle, her parents and his
own four children were on his mind as the panel wrestled
with the bill.
"I often thought how much I admired the mother
to have the strength to continue this fight," he
said. "Matthew and I decided that as long as she
had the strength, so would we."
Even if the bill becomes law, AnnMarie Morse said she
won't consider her job finished. She plans to push for
changes in federal law that will apply to employers
with self-funded insurance plans, including the school
district where she works.
"I'm like a mama bear protecting her cubs. It's
just wrong," she said.
"It's so wrong."
In her last journal entry, written in April, Michelle
Morse described finding out that her cancer had spread
and that she faced a new regimen of chemotherapy.
"It came back," she wrote. "Yet, I am
a different person this time. I'm more positive and
I think of myself as less of a cancer patient."
"I only think about it during chemo days,"
she wrote. "Then I move on."