Helping your college student in case of a medical emergency

When parents send their teens to college they assume that when paying for their child’s tuition and health insurance, they will have the right to be informed and consulted in case of an illness, an accident or other health challenges. THIS IS NOT SO! Parents have no legal right to obtain medical information about their college age son or daughter.

At age 18 teens become legal adults. This is especially significant for teens with medical conditions, since in the US, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)  prevents parents from accessing their child’s information and restricts a parent’s ability to influence medical care. Parents are no longer entitled to be informed about medical emergencies, and are not authorized to make decisions or make inquiries on their child’s behalf

There are several key steps that both students and parents must take as they near the milestone of “legal independence”. Teens should learn how to access their medical insurance contact information and carry their health insurance card. They should have access to their medical history and immunization records. They should keep a contact list of their doctors and dentist.

They should know names and doses of any medications they take, possible side effects, how to renew prescriptions and how to track regular daily consumption of necessary medications.

They should have a clear schedule for periodic lab work and tests, immunotherapy treatments and needed vaccinations, e.g. flu shots.

They should be aware of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), that may allow them to request some special accommodations when needed.

They should be familiar with their college physical AND mental health services, and encouraged to seek help without hesitation.

They should have an “In Case of Emergency” (“ICE”) contact programmed into their cellphone to support any emergency contact.

Establishing a simple health care power of attorney is highly recommended. This should be sufficient in most cases to enable parents to be informed in case of medical need and allow parents access to medical information if needed.

Here are two examples of good basic forms:
The WA state medical association has a very simple health care power of attorney 

The Northwest Justice Project also has a simple health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney.

Most states will accept a power of attorney from another state, if it was validly executed in the state where it was prepared. However, some states, particularly the eastern and southern states, have substantial differences in their laws. Families should remember to review their documents if their student moves from one state to another.

Alternatively, parents can consult their family attorney. A custom power of attorney, prepared by an attorney will usually cost several hundred dollars. Customized documents are needed in special circumstances, for example if there are multiple designated agents serving jointly or when special health care preferences are desired.

Important: In order to ensure that a valid executed healthcare power of attorney is immediately accessible by any health care provider when needed, it is recommended to make it accessible online. A number of companies now offer online storage of estate planning documents. One of the industry leaders in this area is

Bottom line:

Be proactive. Knowing that your child is experienced, prepared, and has the right legal coverage, will help make the transition to adulthood a smoother journey, and you can rest easier at night.

Read more 

CBS Money Watch

Consumer Reports


Legal Zoom


One comment

  1. I think that you can go through your primary physician and become their health care proxy. That shouldn’t cost anything and allows you to be part of the medical decision making process. The age for medical independence in Norway is 16! Way too young! 😉

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