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Children, Health Care Decisions and the Law

By Natalie A. Roberts | Categories: Blogs, Health Care | Share August 2019

This year’s school preparation for kids eighteen and older, whether they are seniors in high school or heading off to college, should include updating of medical authorization forms. As parents, you may not realize that you do not have essential legal authorizations in place to permit you, their parents, to access your children’s medical records or make decisions about their care in the event of a serious illness or traumatic injury. 

The purpose of the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) was to protect patient information and privacy. This makes sense for adults, living on their own. But most 18-year-olds are still in high school, live at home, and have their expenses paid for by their parents. Once your child turns 18, however, he or she is no longer a legal minor. Your kid is considered an adult. That means hospitals and doctor’s offices must safeguard your child’s information from everyone, including his or her own parents! Before a late-teen child or young adult heads off to school, parents should ensure that they execute the required legal documents to allow their parents access to their medical records and authority to discuss their medical care.

Access to health care records is accomplished through the use of a HIPAA Authorization. With this instrument, the young adult can designate any individuals (usually the parents) to be his or her Authorized Recipients of medical information. This document can be incredibly helpful if there is a question about the young adult’s care while the parent is paying the corresponding medical bill.

A properly executed HIPAA Authorization can also be crucial in the event the young adult ends up in the hospital. Because hospitals do not want to be fined for violating HIPAA, most will err on the side of caution and refrain from disclosing any information to family members without the properly executed documentation. Without this exchange of information, families can feel out of control and doctors may miss important family medical information.

As a companion to the HIPAA Authorization, it is important to have a Designation of Health Care Surrogate executed so that someone (again, usually the parents) will have the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of the young adult if he or she is incapacitated. Without this document, the family may end up having to go to court in order to have someone appointed to make crucial medical decisions. In the event of a traumatic injury, where time is of the essence, this authorization can prove critical.

For children under eighteen, HIPAA is a non-issue because parents, as legal guardians, have access to their children’s medical information and are the ones making most of the medical decisions, as well as paying the expenses.

If you, or someone you know, has recently turned 18 years old or is in need of these legal authorizations, please give us a call. We are here to protect you and your family through all the major milestones in life.


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