Health Care Directive, Part 1: Get One Now

When I had surgery a couple years ago I was lucky enough to live in a city where my relationship with my former partner was respected by the hospital staff.   The hospital employees didn’t bat an eyelash when my partner accompanied me through all phases of the experience, except the surgery itself. Further, the doctor came and found her in the waiting room to provide her with an update after the surgery was complete.  Of course, it only takes one hospital employee to destroy that respect no matter where you live.

In the past, an employee could refuse your partner access to you during your hospital stay. Fortunately, that is no longer the case for any hospital accepting federal funds. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services department (CMS), at Pres. Obama’s urging, issued new rules effective January 23, 2011, that grant you the right to choose your visitors.

The new CMS rules require hospitals to explain that you have the right to choose who may visit you without regard to whether the visitor is a family member, spouse or domestic partner. Beware: while many people with whom I’ve spoken believe that these new rules ensure access by their chosen loved one, it is only effective if you are conscious enough to name your visitor. So, what happens if you are unconscious? How will you be able to let the hospital no which of your loved ones should have access to you?

In addition, these rules only allow your partner access to you. They do not allow your partner to make medical decisions on your behalf. The only ways in which another may make medical decisions on your behalf is either through court appointment or healthcare directive. In the former, your partner will be forced to go to court and obtain the court’s approval before the hospital will follow her wishes. But, if you have a valid health care directive appointing another person to act as your agent, the agent has the right to step into your shoes and speak on your behalf.

The next few posts will discuss the particulars on drafting a valid medical directive.

So, whether you live in a city that respects your relationship, you must still execute a valid health care directive now!