Each year approximately four million American children will turn 18. This can be an exciting time in one’s life – from gaining legal rights and responsibilities to discovering a new sense of freedom. A child’s independence, however, can have some unexpected consequences for the parents. Once the child turns 18, parents no longer have the authority to make health care decisions or oversee assets for their child.
Due to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws, doctors cannot share information with the parent of someone over the age of 18 without written authorization from the child. As a parent, this leaves one helpless and frustrated. The fact that a young adult is covered under the parents’ medical insurance is a non-factor, even if the parent is paying for the insurance and the medical bills. Enrollment in the family insurance plan does not preclude a child’s right to privacy. Unfortunately, each year a growing number of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are hospitalized with mental illness and other nonlethal injuries. Obtaining information or discussing your child’s condition, even for the most minor incident, can be refused by a doctor citing privacy concerns.
We have heard of countless incidents involving an accident or illness where a parent has not had the legal ability to participate in any medical decisions needed to be made for their injured child.
One such incident involved our colleague. His son was away with a group of friends when he had a severe accident and had to be transported to the hospital. The hospital would not provide any information to the family as the teenager was over the age of 18. Our colleague was in another state and unable to find out any information about his injured child. Although the child ultimately recovered, the lack of information created unnecessary hardship and stress for the parents.
As parents begin preparing for college, one major component that is very often overlooked is the child’s Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney. Most people associate Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney with older people, but they are essential for young people too. This can be surprising to parents.
With a Health Care Proxy, a child can designate a parent as an agent or proxy. This allows the parent to make medical decisions for the child if the child is unable to do so.
The Health Care Proxy would include a HIPAA release which would allow the parent to receive medical information from the doctor. A durable Power of Attorney authorizes an agent (the parent) to manage finances and sign legal documents on behalf of the child.
For parents with children over the age of 18, proper planning should include the preparation of Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney for their children. Please contact Michael Canarick to help you create and customize these documents for your children.