For Medicare beneficiaries who are 65 and older, making decisions regarding end-of-life care can be a daunting task that often gets pushed to the back burner. With the aid of Medicare and its diverse coverage, determining and signing up for a health care proxy may be of value at the age of 65. This critical document plays a vital role in planning for future health care needs. A health care proxy lets individuals designate somebody else to make medical decisions for them under certain circumstances.
Health Care Proxy Definition
The American Bar Association defines a health care proxy as a type of durable power of attorney, often called a medical power of attorney. The person named in the document can designate an agent to act in their stead to make medical decisions if incapacitated. Sometimes, the medical proxy document will refer to the agent as a surrogate, proxy, or representative.
Typically, the medical power of attorney will last until:
- The person recovers and is no longer incapacitated.
- The document expires if it has an expiration date.
- The person who created the document revoked it.
Individuals can download standard forms or have a lawyer create a custom version. Rules for medical proxies can vary by state, so it’s prudent to download documents and follow regulations for the home state.
Typically, medical professionals will determine incapacity at the time of these decisions. Individuals should speak with potential surrogates to make sure they’re willing to step in. For instance, some people might not want to have doctors try to resuscitate them under certain circumstances. In cases like this, it’s important to appoint somebody who will agree to conform to their wishes.
How Does a Health Care Proxy Compare to a Living Will?
People might confuse a living will with a health care proxy because they are both types of advanced directives used to make medical decisions in case of incapacitation. People might prepare both documents as part of planning for future healthcare needs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this briefly explains the two documents’ similarities and differences:
- Living will: A living will let individuals state their preferences for life-sustaining medical treatments in case of incapacitation and a terminal illness.
- Medical proxy: A medical power of attorney allows individuals to appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions for them in case of incapacitation.
Thus, a medical proxy appoints an agent or surrogate to make decisions for the person. A living will specifies the person’s wishes for such life-sustaining treatments as blood transfusions or ventilators.
Who Can Serve as a Named Medical Proxy?
Rules can differ by jurisdiction. Typically, individuals can name anybody over 18 to serve as their surrogate. People commonly choose a spouse or partner, another family member, lawyer, friend, or clergy member.
Generally, people only appoint one surrogate, though they might also name alternates if the primary person can’t perform the function. For instance, an older person might name a spouse as the primary and an adult child as the alternate agent.
Who Can Access Medical Records?
Strict privacy laws protect patient records. At the same time, a patient’s named proxy should generally have access to these records. For extra assurance, Medicare offers a form that allows beneficiaries to give other people access to their records by calling 1-800-Medicare. Either download Form CMS-10106 from the website or log into MyMedicare.gov to complete it online.
Some essential facts about appointing an agent to view Medicare records include:
- The beneficiary can give an agent full authority to see any records or to limit access to specific data.
- As with other advanced planning directives, the Medicare beneficiary retains the right to revoke this permission at any time.
- Patients can specify a termination date or choose to leave permission in place indefinitely.
Does Medicare Pay for Advance Planning for Medical Needs?
According to Medicare.gov, Part B covers advanced planning during the annual Wellness Visit. Medicare covers this visit for free if the provider accepts Medicare Assignment. If done at other times, the Part B deductible and coinsurance might apply.
During the visit, the provider can offer more information about documents and help patients complete the forms. Thus, Medicare beneficiaries should think about future healthcare wishes and who they would like to appoint to speak for them. People have the right to change or revoke this document.
What Are the Benefits of Advance Planning?
Planning for future medical needs benefits both individuals and their friends and family. The individual who prepares the document can rest assured that doctors will abide by their wishes, and they can appoint a trusted surrogate who will make medical decisions in their interest. This planning helps family and friends because it relieves them of the stress of not knowing their loved one’s wishes when they can’t speak for themselves.
- Advanced Care Planning, Medicare.
- Living Wills and Advanced Directives for Medical Decisions, Mayo Clinic.
- Medicare Online Forms, CMS.