Amid Congressional squabbling over Republican efforts to transition the nation from Obamacare to Trumpcare, one trend has become evident: Healthcare spending continues to take up a greater share of the overall economy. It has outpaced U.S. economic growth for at least the last decade, with medical cost inflation trending around 6-8% since the Great Recession in 2008.
While there are a number of culprits that have contributed to the nation’s rising budget deficit, the growth in health care entitlement spending – Medicare and Medicaid – is one of the primary drivers.
Certainly in an environment of rising deficits, controlling entitlement costs is of concern. However, another potential way of addressing the rising cost of care is for beneficiaries themselves to have living wills.
A living will, also called an advance heath care directive, is a legal document that can be personally tailored to your medical care preferences. It is used to dictate to healthcare providers the path of life-prolonging treatments for patients faced with life-threatening conditions that leave them incapable of communicating on their own behalf. Most attorneys will offer to craft a living will when a client has asked for a last will to be created.
Considering a living will is a personal decision, one that helps ensure that your doctors provide you with the care you want. Additionally, a living will can remove the level of anxiety family members naturally feel if medical decisions are placed in their hands. In this way, a living will could be viewed as a gift to your family. Anyone who has been through the end-of-life experience with a parent or aging loved one can empathize with the complicated decisions and raw emotions that come into play during those last months.
Secondarily, while providing patients the care they want for themselves, living wills can have a positive long-term impact on runaway medical costs for individuals, who for their own personal reasons decide to limit the amount of medical care they are given.
For any adult child faced with the terribly sad and traumatic situation of “guessing” the desires of a critically ill parent unable to decide for themselves their preferred course of medical treatment, a living will is a true grace. There are many unfortunate examples of the painful consequences that arise when a living will is not created.
Designating a health care power of attorney and creating a living will should be part of your planning for the future. Taking this step is a sensitive but rational action. If you plan and execute a living will, the documents should be easily accessible – not in a safety deposit box. Also, consider naming an alternative agent in case the person you name to help you make decisions when you cannot is unable to assist.
High medical costs are something that will likely continue to draw the attention of Congress and the angst of Republicans and Democrats alike. It’s all about demographics: more than 30% of Medicare expenditures are attributable to the 5% of beneficiaries who pass away each year, according to a study. Life expectancies in the U.S. continue to head higher. The most recent statistics on life expectancy from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show an average life expectancy of just over 76 years for men and just over 81 years for women, compared to the average life expectancy of 68 years in 1950. The increase in life expectancy over the last century is in large part explained by advanced medical capabilities which have reduced the mortality rate for the elderly.
At the end of the day, health care is a personal and family matter, both the cost and personal preferences. A living will allows you to make sure your wishes are known and followed, and in the long run will have a more favorable effect on the rising cost of health care.