Why your adult child needs a HIPAA form
Research indicates that the brain doesn't fully mature until around age 25, but nonetheless: In Illinois (as in most states), 18 is the age at which a child is considered to be a legal adult. And it's when parents lose their right to that child's medical information.
That's why -- if you want to be involved in your young adult's health care once they hit that magic age -- you need their authorization under the Health Insurance Privacy and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA.
HIPAA required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient's consent or knowledge. The law doesn't care if your young adult is on your insurance and you're responsible for the bills. It also doesn't care whether your child is an 18-year-old college freshman or a 45-year-old out on their own.
Or maybe they were out on their own, but came back to the nest. Thanks to the pandemic and associated job losses, the share of adults ages 25 to 34 who lived with their parents reached historic highs in 2020, according to the U.S. Census: 22 percent of men and 13.4 percent of women.
The numbers aren't quite as high now, but they're still significant. In 2022, 19 percent of men and 12 percent of women in the 25-34 demographic cohabit with their parents. Young adults who are disabled or have mental or emotional disorders also tend to live with mom and dad.
Health issues arise unexpectedly -- the young adult could be involved in a car accident, diagnosed with cancer or need an emergency appendectomy. You know my mantra: Be prepared with documentation so that health care can proceed according to your child's wishes.
Verbal authorization can take the place of a signed HIPAA release. Your child only has to tell health care providers, "I authorize my parents to receive my medical information and be involved in my health care decisions."
That works if the patient is awake and alert. But what if every parent's nightmare comes true? You get a phone call in the middle of the night that there's been an accident and your child is unconscious. Now what?
A spouse is considered by default to be authorized to receive medical information. If the partners are separated, though, does your child want their soon-to-be ex-spouse involved in their health care? If not, they need a HIPAA form authorizing someone else. Your child may be single and not have anyone to designate.
If your child does end up in the hospital, the HIPAA authorization will come in handy. 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 be left out of the loop and doctors may miss important family medical history.
As a companion to the HIPAA authorization form, it is also important for young adults to have a Health Care Power of Attorney so that someone will have the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of your child if they are incapacitated. Without this document, you may have to go to court to have someone appointed to make crucial medical decisions.
These aren't necessarily easy conversations to have with an adult child because no one -- particularly a young adult who is healthy -- wants to think about the possibility of illness or injury. And as parents we need to be careful that we're not acting like mother hens and intruding on their privacy.
It might be worthwhile to have a trusted family member or adviser suggest your child should consider executing a HIPAA authorization and health care power-of-attorney, designating you or another individual of their choosing to be an authorized recipient of medical information and make decisions on their behalf.
HIPAA authorization and health care power-of-attorney forms are available on the Illinois.gov website, or an attorney can help you execute them. The signed forms should be shared with your child's health care providers and kept in an accessible place in case they're needed.
We buy insurance and hope we never have to use it. Encourage your child to prepare a HIPAA authorization and health care power of attorney, and then hope they're never needed.
• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates (www.NorthShoreRN.com). She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (847) 612-6684.