Jun 16, 2009
The Michigan Statute authorizing these specialized powers of attorney denominate them as “Healthcare Designations of Patient Advocate.” The previous blog addressed Durable Powers of Attorney, the rationale behind them and the common law and statutory law authorizing them. The Designation of Patient Advocate is a special form of a Durable Power of Attorney which restricts itself to medical and health care issues. For purposes of this blog, I will refer to them as Medical or Health Care Powers of Attorney.
The Medical Power of Attorney is often confused with another similar planning tool, the “Living Will Declaration.” The Living Will Declaration is a self-activating instruction to the Medical Community to take certain, often life-ending, actions. Unlike the Living Will Declaration, which is a direct instruction to the medical community, a Medical Power of Attorney appoints a person as your agent (just like a General Durable Power of Attorney), to act on your behalf in the process of making medical and health care decisions. These powers can range from daily care decisions to the ultimate end of life decision.
A well-drafted Medical Power of Attorney will not only specifically itemize the powers granted, but it will designate the person who has that authority. There is a specific itemized list of powers which may be granted by statute and it is wise drafting to include those statutory powers in the document.
The Medical Power of Attorney statute was passed by the Michigan Legislature in late 1990. Prior to that time, the status of the Power of Attorney in making healthcare decisions was questionable. Michigan had some very unclear statutory treatment of the meaning of “death” and how and when life could be terminated.
The medical and legal community alike embraced the advent of the Medical Power of Attorney Statute.
Unlike a general durable power of attorney, the Michigan Medical Power of Attorney statute requires the written determination by two medical professionals that the patient is unable to meaningfully participate in their own health care decision making process, before the agent is authorized to act.
In April of 2004, certain provisions in the Health Care Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which critically effect these Medical Powers of Attorney became active. HIPAA, among (many) other things, provides that a Medical Provider cannot reveal “Protected Health Information” (PHI) to anyone without the prior, written authorization of the patient.
Obviously, when the patient is not competent, this is not possible. The HIPAA regulations provide for a delegation, in writing, by the patient (obviously prior to their becoming incompetent). It is critical that a Medical Power of Attorney contain HIPAA - compliant provisions.
Hospitals and Legislators offer a “fill-in-the-blank” form of Health Care Designation. In my view, while better than nothing, they leave much to be desired and do not cover with sufficient detail, the important provisions which should be in these documents.
The Medical Power of Attorney is one of the fundamental, important tools of estate planning.