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National Health Care Decisions Day

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April 16 is National Healthcare Decisions Day (NHDD).

Those of us who offer legal counsel, financial and insurance advisory services, or health care related services, should be particularly mindful of the day’s significance. 

NHDD, first observed in 2008, is a time to educate the public and providers about the importance of advance health care decision-making, inspire conversations about advance directives, and empower Americans to create advance directives.

The topic of advance directives is often a very difficult one for families and caregivers. April 16 was set aside as a catalyst to facilitate action and as a tool to begin “the conversation.” Think of it as an excuse to confront the elephant in the room, and then blame it on the fact that it’s April 16!

See also: Why advisors are really death planners

It may be coincidental, but certainly fortuitous, that NHDD falls within National Financial Literacy Month – a time when many professional advisors have their radar up as they engage in outreach to promote the importance of financial literacy and estate planning. With advance directives (living will, health care surrogate, preneed guardianship, etc.) being components of a comprehensive estate plan, our firm has chosen to undertake an outreach campaign with a broad scope during the month of April. We highlight both financial literacy and advance care planning in April, because the topics are connected.

Why the need for a national awareness day?

It’s all about strength in numbers and eliminating geographic borders. NHDD is a nationwide collaborative effort involving health care facilities, libraries, drug stores, churches, synagogues, and many other non-health care venues. Every year on April 16, these organizations unite with a single message to ensure that all adults with decision-making capacity have the information and opportunity to communicate and document their decisions. They simply need to begin by having “the conversation.”

NHDD will help Americans understand that making future health care decisions includes much more than deciding what care they would or would not want; it starts with expressing preferences, clarifying values, identifying care preferences and selecting an agent to express health care decisions if patients are unable to speak for themselves.

Statistics show the need for awareness among a rapidly aging population

Our elderly population is increasing at staggering rates. By 2030, an estimated 8.5 million Americans will be over the age of 85, and roughly half will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia. 

However, a 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center found that only one-third of Americans had a living will and even fewer had appointed a health care proxy to act on their behalf if they cannot act for themselves.

The impact of health care directives on Medicare spending

As noted in a New York Times article several years ago, a third of the Medicare budget is spent in the last year of life, and a third of that goes for care in the last month. The author noted that “those figures would surely be lower if more Americans, while they were still healthy, took the initiative to spell out what treatments they do — and do not — want by writing living wills and appointing health care proxies.” 

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, advance directives are linked to less Medicare spending, lower likelihood of dying in a hospital, and higher usage of hospice care.

Taking control of the future, and sparing your loved ones the guilt 

Absent the proper documents, health care providers will rely on family members to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones. Families are often haunted by having made medical decisions without knowing their loved one’s wishes. And, they often carry guilt and anxiety for years beyond as to whether or not they did the right thing.

One of the most responsible and loving things we can do as adults, of any age, is to take control of the future and make these difficult decisions prior to becoming physically or mentally incapacitated.

It’s time to have the conversation and to take steps to document those wishes. 

See also: Top 10 final care facts