“Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.” This is a quote from "Tuesdays with Morrie" written by Mitch Albom. When that day comes we hope it will be a long time from now and that it will not be prolonged with debilitating illness or condition. Unfortunately, for many of us, our final years will not be what we hoped for and we may spend a length of time physically or mentally incapacitated; however, there are ways to take some control over our lives if we become incapacitated. A very important legal document that deals with your health care during incapacity is the Advance Health Care Directive because an unexpected accidents or illnesses can befall anyone.
An Advance Health Care Directive allows you to name another person to serve as your health care agent. This person (your trusted agent) is authorized to speak on your behalf in order to consent to or refuse any medical treatment on your behalf if your doctor deems that you are unable to make those decisions for yourself. An Advance Health Care Directive can be operative at any time you designate, not just when your condition is terminal. This legal document is a precautionary legal document that is created in the event that you become unable to make your own healthcare decisions. It is essentially a power of attorney, but for medical decisions instead of financial and business decisions.
Common Questions & Answers about Advance Health Care Directive and HIPAA
Q: Won’t my spouse automatically get the right to make health care decisions for me?
A: Marriage does not automatically allow the healthy spouse to make health care decisions for the incapacitated spouse, absent an express written authority granting such rights. The advance health care directive creates these legal rights.
Q: What instructions can my advance health care directive (AHCD) include?
A: Your AHCD can include information about end of life decisions, like whether or not you want to be resuscitated or kept alive on machines if you are in a permanent vegetative state. You can also include information about organ donations. If you suffer from a chronic ailment, you can talk to your physician about specific treatments, make decisions ahead of time, and set parameters regarding certain life-prolonging procedures. You can also include any medical treatments you absolutely reject under any circumstances that conform to your personal or religious believes.
Q: What is HIPAA?
A: HIPAA stands for the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a law passed by the United States Congress in 1996 and amended over the years. HIPAA and the California’s codification called CMIA (Confidentiality of Medical Information Act) have provisions in them to prevent health care providers from disseminating your health information or medical records. When we are incapacitated, we depend upon the agents named in an advance health care directive to make medical decisions for us. In order for our agents to make meaningful decisions, we must waive our right to privacy and authorize them to access our confidential medical records. Otherwise, our agents won’t know how to make intelligent decisions regarding our health and carry out our wishes.