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When Michelle Morse was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20, she and her family expected that she would need to leave Plymouth State University to devote herself to her treatment. But that plan ran up against a major problem. Michelle was only covered by her parents’ health insurance while she was actually enrolled full time in college. This turned out to be the norm for most employer-provided insurance plans.
With some accommodations from Plymouth State to enable her to attend despite her illness and grueling chemotherapy treatments, Michelle stayed at the University. In May 2005, she completed her bachelor’s degree in education. In fact, she appeared on the cover of Plymouth Magazine (Fall 2005) in a story about her student teaching experience at Bakersville Elementary School in her hometown of Manchester. It is a testament to her spirit that she was able to reach this goal.
At the same time, Michelle was pursuing another goal: that no other New Hampshire college student with a serious illness would have to face this same dilemma. Michelle and her mother, AnnMarie Morse, contacted Rep. William Infantine (R-Manchester) in the state legislature and asked for his help. Infantine introduced House Bill 37, which has come to be known as “Michelle’s Law”—a bill that would prevent insurance companies from blocking coverage to ill, injured or incapacitated college students, even if they had to leave school.
Michelle died on Thursday, November 10, 2005. Five days later, the House Commerce Committee voted unanimously to recommend House approval of the bill. As of this writing, the House had passed the bill and it was on its way to the Senate.
Michelle’s mother has maintained a Web site about Michelle’s situation and updates on HB 37 as well as an online petition that supporters of the bill can sign.
AnnMarie Morse made a public statement after her daughter’s death, saying, “Through her entire 23-month ordeal, she battled with dignity, courage, compassion, strength and concern for others. She is an amazing person and is my hero. Not for one minute did she ever wallow in self-pity … She lived life to the fullest for as long as she could.”——Marcia L. Santore