One of the hard lessons we are learning about health care reform is that while we are fixated nationally on the Affordable Care Act, there really is no single solution that will fix our nation’s health system.
Rather, many solutions will need to be found in actions taken by individuals and large organizations that ultimately will transform a health system to provide better care and enhanced service at lower costs.
I believe one of the solutions is a relatively easy action that each of us can take to make an immediate impact: complete a living will and a medical power of attorney. The short time spent preparing these documents has a very real potential to significantly decrease health care costs as well as provide a needed improvement in the quality of life and enhance dignity for those who are in the dying process.
An important added benefit is the peace of mind this can provide for families.
A living will is a one-page document describing the kind of care you do or do not want if you are unable to make your own health-care decisions. A medical power of attorney identifies the person who is empowered to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to make them.
In 2010, the media reported Medicare costs skyrocketed to $55 billion for care during the last two months of life.
Yet, various surveys indicate that one-third or less of Americans have made their choices and wishes known through these documents.
This leads me to believe the lack of living-will and medical-power-of-attorney documents was a major factor in these costs.
I also question how effective these expenditures were in supporting better patient care and improved quality of life. Further, with the growing number of baby boomers coming into Medicare every day, this number is surely increasing.
I believe now is the time to ask our elected officials in Washington to consider making the completion of a living will and medical power of attorney a requirement in the Medicare application process.
Of course, there may be concern among some about the appropriateness of government involvement in making this intensely personal matter a requirement of Medicare benefits.
I would ask these people to consider that the completion of these documents preserves and strengthens individual choice, keeps the highly personal discussion about dying within the privacy of the family, and has the real potential to save tens of billions of dollars.
I would encourage readers to contact their elected officials and recommend they support such a change. On a daily basis, in hospitals across the country, the lack of a living will or medical power of attorney significantly contributes to confusion and sometimes harsh arguments within families huddled over dying loved ones.
One child insists that mom or dad just wants to be left alone to go peacefully without complex, uncomfortable and sometimes painful treatments that won’t change the inevitable; another child insists that the parent wants everything that can be done to be done, even if the efforts are futile.
Obtain a living will and medical power of attorney, and discuss your desires with your family members or others close to you. This won’t fix the health system but, if enough people take this action, it has the potential to lower the costs for health care by tens of billions of dollars and enhance the quality of life of those who are dying, while providing peace of mind for their families.
• Peter Fine is president and CEO of Banner Health.