As your clients send their “babies” off to college, each one should each be armed with a HIPAA Release along with their comforter and laptop computer.
Steve Hartnett emphasized this in his June 6 post about the legal document needs of adult children: youngsters who’ve turned 18 are now legal adults are subject to HIPAA in their own right. If you still need convincing, consider this additional evidence from your colleagues:
- Two estate planning attorneys have told me their own PERSONAL STORIES about being denied information about their own 18-year old children, who were hospitalized unexpectedly at college without a HIPAA release or an HCPOA
- A few years ago, before we launched our Healthcare Directives Registry for college students (I.C.E.), we surveyed estate planning attorneys on this topic. They shared with us a number of stories about clients who have similarly been denied this information by hospital staff. One was a particularly harrowing story about a parent who couldn’t get information about her daughter for 2 days, until she was able to travel and show up in person at the hospital.
Here’s another real world suggestion: execute a separate HCPOA and a HIPAA Release. Yes, an HCPOA is legally sufficient for the parent who is named as the 18 year-old’s agent. But it’s worthwhile having a separate HIPAA release for one or both of these reasons:
- Your clients may want to grant permission to additional person(s) to talk to hospitals and doctors if their college students have a medical emergency. Maybe they have a relative or close friend living near the college whom they’d want to receive information in an emergency. Or perhaps your client has a relative who is a physician, whom they would want to consult with the student’s doctor. With a HIPAA Release, all of this can happen without the individual being named as the HCPOA.
- We have heard from a few of our enrollees that hospital staff occasionally refuses to honor the HCPOA and ask explicitly for a HIPAA release. Though erroneous, the staff person believes he/she is required to have this document. Again, in a time of emergency, you don’t want your clients to have to argue the law, or be stymied. (And you certainly don’t want to look like you didn’t provide your clients with the needed documents). You just want your clients to have whatever legal papers they might possibly need, so they can learn about their child’s condition as quickly as possible.
Are hospitals required to be this strict about guarding patients’ medical information that they must have a HIPAA Release or an HCPOA in all cases? Actually, no. HIPAA regulations allow hospital staff the leeway to share information if it is in the best interests of the patient. But, it’s a lot easier for hospitals to train staff with black and white rules rather than with nuance. And they are concerned about being fined for a HIPAA breach.
If you’d like to see a sample letter to send clients, inviting them to create a HIPAA Release and HCPOA for their college students, feel free to email me.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 200,000 enrollees are immediately available 24/7/365. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the International Society of Advance Care Planning, she is active in health policy and health education related to advance care planning and advance directives and serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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