Going away to college? Consider a healthcare proxy

Going away to college? Consider a healthcare proxy

Many students are already focused on packing for college.

While electronics, clothes, and room furnishings are clearly priorities for many students, families need to be aware of important legal documents that should be in place before students head off to school.

Healthcare is a priority

In the event a student gets sick or there is a medical emergency, parents may want to prepare a healthcare proxy for their children to be able to help them while they are away from home. Without these documents, parents could face obstacles that prevent them from receiving medical information, offering help, or making medical decisions.

Designating a healthcare proxy

For students under the age of 18, a healthcare provider can release medical records and share information with parents. But once children reach the age of 18, they are entitled to medical record and financial privacy. Doctors cannot share information without permission because of regulations under the federal HIPAA law (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). But if families prepare certain documents, including a healthcare proxy for example, in advance of going to college, the parents would be allowed to get information about their child’s medical condition, access records, and make decisions for them if needed.

With a healthcare proxy, a child can designate a parent as an agent or proxy. A number of resources explain the process of selecting a proxy.

If the child is unable to make decisions, the proxy may get information about the child’s condition, discuss options, express the child’s wishes, and make treatment decisions. A living will is often paired with the healthcare proxy, and signed at the same time, to help guide the proxy. This document allows the student to discuss his or her wishes about the use of various types of medical treatments to extend life.

For many states, there is conformity among these forms, meaning that executing a healthcare proxy in one state will apply to another. But there can be differences between the states. For parents of students attending college out of state, it is important to seek advice on the correct documents to use. Up-to-date versions of these documents by state can be downloaded at no cost at caringinfo.org. Families may also want to consult with an attorney to ensure that important variables and considerations are addressed.

HIPAA medical release

When patients visit a doctor or hospital, they are often asked to sign a HIPAA  form, which authorizes the sharing of medical information with a designated person. Typically, these forms are signed at the treating facility. However, documents prepared in advance should include language that will allow the designated agent to receive medical information in compliance with HIPAA regulations.

Durable power of attorney

Parents and students may also want to consider a durable power of attorney. This document authorizes an agent (the parent) to manage finances and sign legal documents on behalf of the patient if they are incapacitated. The power of attorney will make it possible for parents to sign documents on behalf of their child, access bank accounts, and manage their accounts.

A student may have opted to stay on the family health insurance plan rather than enroll in school-sponsored coverage. But enrollment in the family’s insurance plan does not preclude the child’s right to privacy. Without a healthcare proxy, parents are not entitled to medical information about an adult child.

The best time to prepare legal documents is before the child leaves for college. Parents may want to seek assistance from a family financial advisor or legal counsel to gather and review the documents.

Covid-19 vaccine requirements

The pandemic disrupted college attendance for millions of students in 2020 and 2021. It also ushered in an era of additional requirements as campuses resume in-person education this fall. Many colleges this year will require proof of vaccination to attend classes, study groups, and social events, or live in a dormitory.

As of July, more than 500 public and private colleges had announced requirements that students have a Covid-19 vaccine to attend school. More colleges may make announcements in the coming weeks. Some institutions may wait until the vaccines have received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which is expected this fall. The current rules, however, vary widely by state and may not apply to all institutions. Some states may offer exemptions to students, while others may not.

The college’s admissions office and website will have the most up-to-date information on requirements and what type of documentation is needed.

Getting access to financial statements

For many parents, when their child leaves for college, so ends the daily notification and alerts from the high school about grades. In general, a federal law called FERPA (Federal Education Rights Privacy Act) prevents a college or university from sharing student information with others, including parents and guardians. This applies even to students under the age of 18. However, most schools allow students to give parents permission to view financial statements online. This provides access for parents to financial statements, including tuition and refunds. Parents may also continue to view academic reports if they wish.

Importance of planning ahead

In most cases, families will not face an emergency or have to deal with making difficult medical decisions for their children. But having a plan in place in advance can alleviate stress and complications should a difficult situation arise while a child is away from home.


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