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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Choosing a Health Care Agent - When a Health Care Agent Is Needed

Someone will have to make medical decisions for you if you become unable to communicate or lose decision-making abilities. By selecting a health care agent in advance, you grant the person you want to make these decisions the legal right to do so. This helps avoid uncertainty, conflict, and stress for your loved ones during a time that is likely to already be difficult for them. Also, it ensures that you will have an advocate to help others understand your preferences. The legal form that states your choice of a health care agent is usually called a medical power of attorney or a durable power of attorney for health care. But it may be called by other names in some states.

Ideally, you will also create a living will that outlines the basic types of care you would want under a variety of situations. Having this document can help your health care agent, doctors, and family members understand your desires more completely. But it cannot cover all possible situations that might occur. A health care agent becomes especially valuable if your condition changes. He or she can talk to your doctors about care options, weigh the risks and benefits, and make decisions based on the specific situation. The health care agent and living will complement each other so you can be assured that your medical care matches your preferences as closely as possible.

A health care agent can also have more credibility in seeking a second opinion or when talking to hospital administrators about your care. This can become especially important if your agent feels that decisions about your health care are not being made in the way that you would wish.

If you do not have a health care agent or a living will, decisions about your medical care may be made by family members (who may find it difficult to be in such a position or who may disagree with each other), doctors, hospital administrators, or judges. By appointing a health care agent, you are clearly stating who you think understands your wishes best and who you want to make health decisions on your behalf.

A medical power of attorney and a living will are types of advance directives. For more information about these documents, see the topic Writing an Advance Directive.

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