The image above came from an actual Facebook page I found recently. An irate mother started the page after a nurse refused to provide her with information about her daughter who was injured in a car accident while five hours away at school.
It brings up an issue about which many parents sending their children off to college this fall are not aware. You may be paying your child’s college tuition and expenses, and covering him or her on your health insurance. But in the eyes of the law, your 18 year old is legally an adult and entitled to the same privacy protections that you are.
This means that even though your child may be relying on you for the majority of his or her support, privacy laws prohibit financial institutions and medical providers from disclosing private information concerning your child to you without his or her authorization.
Under normal circumstances, this may not be a problem. Parents of college students should encourage their kids to be self-reliant and financially responsible. Being away from home gives them an opportunity experience life as an adult for the first time. And encouraging independence is a good thing.
But what happens in case of an emergency? Will you be able to access information about your child’s condition if your child is seriously ill or injured while away at school? Will you be able to help them handle their financial affairs if they are incapacitated and are unable to make these decisions on their own?
Without three important documents, you may not be able to step in when your child needs you most. That’s why you should encourage your college student to get the following documents before heading off to school:
- Durable Power of Attorney: The Durable Power of Attorney will allow your child to authorize you to manage his financial affairs either immediately or in the future should he become mentally or physically unable to do so. This would authorize you to handle tasks such as paying bills, applying for social security or government benefits and opening and closing accounts if necessary.
- Medical Power of Attorney: The Medical Power of Attorney allows your child to authorize you to make medical decisions if he or she is incapacitated and unable to do so. An agent acting under a Medical Power of Attorney is authorized to see the principal’s medical records to make informed medical decisions on his or her behalf.
- HIPAA Release: HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) requires health care providers and insurance companies to protect the privacy of patient’s health care information. Those who violate HIPAA are subject to civil and criminal penalties, including jail time, which makes them reluctant to share protected health information without an authorization.While it’s true an agent under a Medical Power of Attorney has the authority to view the principal’s medical records, the Medical Power of Attorney does not grant authority to the agent until the principal is incapacitated. If capacity is questioned, then HIPAA regulations would prevent access to protected health information.This means that even parents may be prevented from accessing their children’s medical information without an authorization, just like the mom above. By signing a HIPPA release your child can authorize doctors to share diagnoses and treatment options with you.
These three documents are easy to prepare and are relatively inexpensive. If you have a child heading off to college this year, it’s important that you discuss the importance of these documents with him or her.