Will You Be able to Help Your College-Age Child in a Medical Emergency?

Plan for emergencies before your child leaves college

Early one October morning, you receive a call from your child’s college roommate telling you that your child has been taken to the hospital after an accident on campus.  He is 300 miles away and you have no idea of his condition.  You call the ER for details about his condition.  Instead of information, you get a rebuff from the nurse.  “Your son is 18 and is considered an adult.  You do not have his permission to speak to the doctor.”

Was the nurse acting within her scope.  Actually, yes she was.  The ER did not disclose the son’s medical condition due to the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA.  Once a child turns 18, the child is legally a stranger to the parents.  You, as a parent, have no more right to obtain medical information on your legal-age son or daughter than you would to obtain information about a stranger on the street.  And that is true even if the 18 year old id covered under the parent’s health insurance, and even if the parents are paying the bill.  A medical provider can choose to disclose protected health information to a family member, even without the patient’s authorization, if, in his/her professional judgment, it serves the best interest of the patient.  But provider’s often come down of the side of the patient privacy, particularly if they have never met the family member.
How to Ensure You’ll Have Access to Your Child
A simple, signed legal document (two in some states) can smooth the way.  Three forms – HIPAA authorization, medical power of attorney, and durable power of attorney will help facilitate the involvement of a parent or other trusted adult in a medical emergency. 
If a student attends college out of state, fill out the forms relevant to the home state and school state to avoid any challenges.  If the school has its own form, sign that one too. When the doctor or medical institution sees it, you want them to be familiar with it and recognize it.  Once the forms are completed, it is a good idea to scan and save them so that they are readily available on a smartphone or home computer. 
You don’t need a lawyer to do this.  Many websites have downloadable forms.
HIPAA authorization:  A signed HIPAA authorization is like a permission slip.  It permits healthcare providers to disclose your health information to anyone you specify.  A stand-alone HIPAA authorization (not incorporated into a broader legal document) does not have to be notarized or witnessed.  Students who want their parents to be involved in a medical emergency, but fear disclosure of sensitive information, need not worry; HIPAA authorization does not have to be all-encompassing. 
Medical power of attorney: In signing a medical POA, you appoint an “agent” to make medical decisions on your behalf in case you are incapacitated and cannot make such decisions for yourself.  Each state has different laws governing medical POA and, therefore, different legal forms.  In many states, the HIPAA authorization is rolled into the standard medical POA form.  Whether the medical POA requires the signature of a witness or notary varies from state to state.
For the sake of clarifying often-used terms: A medical POA sometimes goes by other names, such as healthcare power of attorney, designation of healthcare proxy, or durable power of attorney for health care.
Durable power of attorney: As an additional step, young-adult children might consider appointing a durable power of attorney, enabling a parent or other designated agent to take care of business on the student’s behalf.  If the student were to become incapacitated or if the student were studying abroad, the durable power of attorney would be able to, for example, sign tax returns, access bank accounts, and pay bills.  Durable POA forms vary by state.  In some states the medical POA can be included in the durable POA form.

(adapted from an article by Susan Feinstein)
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Plan for emergencies before your child leaves collegeEarly one October morning, you receive a call from your child’s college roommate telling you that your child has been taken to ...
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