Health Care Proxy: What Your College Student Needs

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By Melissa Negrin-Wiener

Sending one’s child off to college is an exciting and emotional time for parents. It’s easy to get caught up in shopping for the dorm room, worrying about roommates, checking the school calendar for Parents’ Weekend and packing the car for the big send off. You breathe a sigh of relief once they are settled, until you receive a phone call one day saying that your child was rushed to the emergency room. You immediately call the hospital only to find that since your child is 18 years of age, you are not allowed access to their health records despite the fact that you are the parent nor are you allowed to make vital decisions when it comes to medical assistance/treatment for your child in an emergency situation.

Many parents do not realize that they no longer have a legal right to their child’s medical information due, in part, to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA). Once a child turns 18, he or she is basically a stranger in terms of access to health records or information. This holds true even if the young adult is covered under the parents’ health insurance and even if the parents are paying all of the bills.

One document is needed to eliminate these problems and allows parents immediate access to their child’s doctors and health information—a health care proxy naming a parent as the child’s agent. If drafted correctly, this legal document will allow parents to communicate with medical professionals, access their child’s medical records and make informed decisions regarding treatment for their child should a medical emergency happen.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to bring a college age child to an elder law attorney, their experience with drafting health care proxies and ensuring that the appropriate language is in place is unmatched. It’s important to note that a health care proxy is not worth the paper it is written on if it is not drafted and executed properly.

While this is the last thing a family wants to think about when preparing their child for college, the risk of an accident occurring is undeniable. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that hundreds of thousands of young adults are hospitalized each year with catastrophic injuries. Do you want to be the first phone call made or the last? A properly executed health care proxy offers one less worry for parents.

Melissa Negrin-Wiener is a partner with the elder law and estate planning firm of Genser Dubow Genser & Cona, LLP. For more information, visit www.genserlaw.com.

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