College Bound — Hip, HIPAA, Hooray

College Bound — Hip, HIPAA, Hooray

Congratulations — your son, daughter or grandchild recently got accepted to college, and soon is off to school in the fall. Together you are probably discussing coursework and prospective majors, and figuring out housing arrangements and meal plans. One important, but frequently overlooked, topic is what to do in case your child becomes incapacitated now that they are over the age of 18. This whole issue has evolved over time, as new rules and regulations have been put in place that are meant to protect privacy, but which — often unintentionally — complicate interactions between loved ones. In particular, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) really changed the landscape in 1996, requiring that extra proactive steps be taken in advance for parents to be able to stay involved, if necessary, with important health-related issues involving their “grown” children once they reach the age of majority, which is 18 in most states.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the HIPAA Privacy Rule “establishes national standards to protect individual medical records and other personal health information” and “requires appropriate safeguards” and “sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made of such information without patient authorization.” In some situations, a medical provider may choose to disclose some patient information to a parent — if it is deemed to be in the best interest of the young patient — but typically not. Strict privacy is the default position. And yet, a simple, signed HIPAA release authorization by the child would enable a caring parent to get involved, if something terrible occurred. And the child could stipulate in advance how much information could ultimately be divulged — either making it broad, or possibly more limited, regarding things like possible sexual activity, drug usage, or other potential sensitive matters. Hence, if nothing else, a standard — and stand-alone — HIPAA authorization should be addressed by families at this stage of life.

In addition to the HIPAA authorization, it might also make sense to consider a few other related legal documents that would allow more complete parental involvement in various health and financial-related matters should the need arise, including a Healthcare Directive and a Durable Power of Attorney (POA) (for financial matters). Depending upon the state, these will probably need to be signed in the witness of a Notary Public. The Healthcare Directive (also known interchangeably as a Medical or Healthcare POA) would appoint an “agent” — typically a parent — to make medical decisions on behalf of the child if he or she becomes incapacitated. The Durable POA is more comprehensive, giving the appointee — again, typically a parent, or possibly some other trusted designated agent — the authority to handle business on the student’s behalf, as necessary. In addition to potential incapacity, this could also involve times when the child is out of the country or otherwise unavailable — to pay bills or taxes, or access financial accounts.

Copies of the first two documents — the healthcare-related items — could be submitted by the child to their campus medical or administrative office. The third item does not need to be sent anywhere. It is kept as reference for financial purposes, and is presented by the parents, if ever necessary. These documents should also be scanned to a laptop or phone to have them easily accessible and remotely available. As always, each personal situation is unique, and should be carefully examined with legal counsel; and extra consideration might also be warranted based on the state, and its laws, where the child is attending college.

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