HIPAA is the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. One of its primary provisions is to protect the confidentiality and security of health care information of patients. This has presented problems for many parents with children 18 years or older — particularly those away at college. Because of HIPAA, if you receive a message from the roommate of your student three states away informing you that your son has been rushed to the hospital, you can’t just call the hospital and ask what happened. The privacy law prohibits the hospital from sharing your child’s medical information, and won’t let you even speak to his doctor until you either appear in person or they get legal authorization through a Health Care Power of Attorney or HIPAA waiver document. Nor will they tell his roommate your child’s status.1
However, you can learn about his condition sometime later when your health insurance company sends you, as the policyholder, an explanation of benefits (EOB) for the visit. While that’s all well and good, consider another potential caveat for the student. A student under her parents’ plan may believe it a violation of her privacy when her parent’s learn she was tested for HIV or an STD, or filled a prescription for birth control. This may seem particularly intrusive for young adults who remain covered under their parent’s policy until age 26.
These two very likely scenarios appear to work at cross purposes. Parents may be at a loss to help an incapacitated child from a long distance, yet a young adult does not enjoy the veil of privacy on certain issues he or she may consider sensitive.
Just recently, California became the first state to address this dichotomy when it passed legislation to allow covered individuals to opt for their personal health information to be delivered directly to them instead of the policy holder. The law also is designed to encourage young adults to seek needed care — such as substance abuse counseling — that they may have previously avoided because their parents would be informed.2