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Ever considered HIPAA documents for your adult children?

Author: Venus Dean-Bullinger    Posted: September 22, 2015

Early one October morning, Sheri E. Warsh, a mother of three from Highland Park, Ill., stepped out of the shower to a ringing phone. On the other end, her 18-year-old son’s college roommate delivered terrifying news: Her son—270 miles away at the University of Michigan—was being rushed by ambulance to a nearby emergency room with severe, unrelenting chest pain. “I was scared out of my mind, imagining the worst,” Warsh said.

In a panic, she called the ER for details. What she got instead was a rebuff from the nurse. “She asked me how old my son was, and when I said 18, she told me I had no right to talk to the doctor,” Warsh said.

Was the nurse acting within her scope by shutting out the anxious mom? In fact, she was. The ER chose not to disclose the son’s medical condition due to the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.

“Once a child turns 18, the child is legally a stranger to you,” said Jane F. Wolk, a trusts and estates attorney practicing in New York and New Jersey, referring to the legal age in almost all states (in a few it’s older). “You, as a parent, have no more right to obtain medical information on your legal-age son or daughter than you would to obtain information about a stranger on the street.”  And that is true even if the young-adult child is covered under the parents’ health insurance, and even if the parents are paying the bill.

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