Starting college is an important milestone for both children and their parents. When my two sons graduated from high school, it made me think a lot about how this milestone is relevant to financial life planning.
Imagine the following painful, yet possible, scenario. After sending your daughter off to college in another state, you receive a phone call from her roommate delivering terrifying news. Your daughter was rushed by ambulance to the emergency room after an accident. In a panic, you call the emergency room for details about her condition. However, the nurse tells you that since your daughter is 18 years old, you can't talk to the doctor or anyone else regarding your daughter's condition. Worse, if a medical decision must be made for her (if she is unable), you may not be consulted or able to help make that critical decision.
The medical staff is simply following privacy protocols of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Think of it this way, once she turned 18, she is legally a stranger to you. How does that feel? Yes, she is on your insurance policy. Yes, you are paying the insurance premiums and the hospital bills (as part of your deductible). Yet that does not provide you with any leverage in obtaining information. Thankfully, a doctor may still share information with you if they believe (in their professional judgement) that it would be in your child's best interest.
HIPPA applies to most healthcare providers. However, university health facilities are not covered by HIPAA. Instead, college students' health records fall under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which gives parents the right to inspect their children's records at an educational institution. Therefore, your ability to find out what is going on will depend on where she is being seen.
To help avoid this nightmare scenario, there are three things you can do:
1. Complete a HIPAA Authorization Form. Have your child sign this once they turn 18. If they attend school out of state, complete the forms relevant to both your home state and the out-of-state state. Also, the school may have their own forms.
2. Create an Emergency Medical Contact Card. When an unconscious individual comes into an emergency room, many times the staff will search for an emergency contact card in a wallet or on your phone. Everyone in your family should have one of these. Go to: https://www.myidentitydoctor.com/index.php?route=information/walletcard/form to create a free card for each of your family members. If you use an iPhone, the following site will show you how to set up a Medical ID on your phone (even if the phone is locked with a pass code). https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207021
3. See an attorney so your child can have a Medical/Health Care Power of Attorney drawn up. This will allow your child to appoint you as an "agent" to make medical decisions on their behalf if they incapacitated. You may also create your own turn-key state-specific standard medical directive by going to: http://www.caringinfo.org/
Once these three documents have been created, have them scanned and uploaded into your Mallard WealthWindow (or other online Vault) so they are readily available when needed.
Once you have this important task completed, guess what? You won't be allowed access to your college student's educational records without written permission. You may pay $75,000/year, but have no rights to see the report card! This is due to further privacy regulations by FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) which applies to schools that accept federal funding. However, you should be able to obtain an access waiver signed by your son or daughter for their institution. At some schools this is easy to set up (e.g., Penn State), but at others they make it almost impossible (e.g., University of Pittsburgh).
There are a few other considerations as your son or daughter graduates from high school and prepares for college including the following:
- Talking to your insurance agent about the potential need for renters insurance and the possibility of lowering your auto insurance premiums due to their being away from home (assuming they are not taking a car).
- Open a credit card in their name with you as the co-applicant. Be sure to have the bill paid automatically from your checking account in order to ensure a good credit history is built with no late payments.
- Open a checking account with a bank that is local to the university.
- Evaluate the availability of local, in-network medical providers covered by your health insurance. If none are available you may want consider the school's health insurance offering.