U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) recently proposed a bill to assist Medicare beneficiaries obtain wills and receive education on health care options in the event they become severely debilitated.
Nelson unveiled the legislation, which is targeted at people over the age of 18, on Oct. 28. It is an attempt to avoid situations similar to those in the case of a comatose woman living in Central Florida.
Terri Schiavo, a 39-year-old woman from Clearwater, had no legal will when she experienced a loss of oxygen to her brain and lapsed into a coma 13 years ago. Now Her parents and husband are in a legal fight over whether she should be sustained on a feeding tube.
Nelson said in a recent media release that there should be legislation to avoid such “gut-wrenching disputes.”
Nelson, a Miami native, wants more people to write down instructions in a will. The bill emphasizes the need for educational programs that inform and help people make decisions prior to life-threatening situations.
Lisa Bretz, planning administrator for Area Agency on Aging for North Florida, said programs designed to improve consumers’ education and pre-planning are important.
“We support educational programs that would help people make decisions prior to end-of-life situations, ” Bretz said.
Under the bill, Medicare pays for a visit to the physician where the patient will discuss medical decisions likely to surface if the patient becomes incapacitated.
“Individuals should not have to wait until a crisis occurs before discussing concerns about end-of-life treatments with their doctors,” Nelson said in the release.
FAMU Institute of Public Health Director Cynthia Harris said the sort of early discussion proposed in the bill would help ease the stress of families having to make end-of-life decisions.
“This kind of proactive preventative action they are taking will help educate the public so they can make decisions earlier on and ease the stress of families,” Harris said.
The second part of the legislation would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a $25 million campaign to alert adults about their health care options.
“People have a right to be treated with dignity,” Nelson said in the release. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t help make them more aware that they can decide in advance about what kind of medical treatment they want at the end of life.”
While they understand the importance of having a means of giving final instructions, some students say a legal will is the last thing on their minds.
“Hopefully one day I would have a lot to leave behind, but at this age I did not think of having a will,” said Vivian Momah, a junior health care management student from Miami.
Momah said the Schiavo case has made her think about what could happen. “It makes you think about how we take for granted that age doesn’t eliminate you from drastic situations.”
Three-fourths of Americans have no will, according to Sen. Nelson’s spokesperson Gretchen Hitchner.
Sharon Coleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.