The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that the unthinkable can happen at any time. You may be living life as usual one day, and find yourself in an ICU unit a week later. While COVID-19 raises the likelihood of health problems, the truth is that the potential for medical problems is always a reality.
Advance Directives for Health Care
The current threat is very real, but we all know most people go through an ordinary aging process without experiencing sudden catastrophe. Nevertheless, it is important to be prepared for all eventualities that may come your way.
Advance directives for health care are an important part of your incapacity plan. One type of directive is a living will.
The living will has nothing to do with assets. A living will states your preferences with regard to the use of dialysis, mechanical respiration, resuscitation, and artificial hydration and nutrition. If you have specific desires regarding life-support, you may itemize your preferences in a living will. A living will also records your organ and tissue donation desires, as well as your comfort care medication preferences.
Life-support questions are not the only issues that can arise. Another advance directive, the durable power of attorney for health care, allows you to name someone to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to communicate.
Because of the privacy protections in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you should list the name of your healthcare agent in a HIPAA release. A “HIPAA release” gives doctors the freedom to discuss your medical condition with your healthcare agent. As an example, let’s say that you have an 18-year-old daughter at college out of state. You get a call late one night from her roommate telling you that she was in an accident, and admitted to the hospital. If you call the hospital, without a HIPAA release, the hospital is unlikely to provide any information. They would cite their HIPAA obligation to keep her medical records confidential because she is an adult in the eyes of the law. Because of the HIPAA implications, young people reaching the age of 18 should fill out one of these forms to give their parents (or someone else) the ability to speak freely with their doctors.
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