Will you be shut-out if your college-age child has a medical emergency?

Pessin Katz Law, P.A.

Pessin Katz Law, P.A.

The time when a child goes off to college can be a stressful time for any parent. You know that you are giving up substantial control over your child’s safety and choices, but you may be relinquishing even more control than you think.  When a child turns eighteen, a parent may no longer have access to the child’s medical records, or the status of a child’s condition in a medical emergency.

Although you will have to trust that your child is going to his or her classes or that he or she is making good decisions at a social event, in the case of a medical emergency, there is still an opportunity to be involved.  This is why it is highly recommend that every person over the age of eighteen sign an Advance Medical Directive and Health Care Power of Attorney naming their parent or guardian, or another trusted individual, as their Health Care Agent. The Health Care Power of Attorney allows the child to grant an agent or agents access to his or her medical information under HIPAA, and also to make medical decisions on the child’s behalf if he or she is unconscious or otherwise unable to do so.

Imagine that your eighteen-year-old child is driving to class when he or she is in an accident and knocked unconscious. Although you learn to which hospital your child has been admitted, the hospital administration will not give you any information on the child’s condition. Not only is this terrifying for the parent, but the child is essentially alone in the decision making process, even if he or she would have wanted their parent’s input.

Despite a federal law which states that if the physician thinks it’s in a “patient’s best interest to share information with the patient’s parents”, they may do so, increased penalties for improper disclosure of patient information under HIPAA has been causing a tread for hospitals and doctors to err on the side of caution when asked to release information.  The easiest route is to tell the inquirer “no.”

Regardless of the law, most colleges have a policy, similar to the following: “If you are over eighteen, parents will not have access to medical records nor will Health Service staff be allowed to share information regarding medical issues.” It goes on to say that a signed authorization must be provided to Student Health Services authorizing the release of protected information. This policy is part of the contract your child enters into upon acceptance of their offer of admission, regardless of who is paying the tuition bill. 

It is a common misconception that because the Affordable Care Act allows a child to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26, that the parent has unlimited access to the child’s medical activity. Currently, around twenty-eight states, including Maryland, have limited a parent’s access to the child’s medical information, even when the parent is paying for the insurance and footing the medical bill. The general basis for increased privacy is so that a child is not afraid to get screening or treatment for things like sexually transmitted diseases.

For these reasons, all parents and soon to be and current college students should:

  • Discuss the benefits of executing a Durable Health Care Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive in both the child’s home state and current state of residency
  • Complete their specific college’s form, if the school  has one

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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