Sens. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, reintroduced bipartisan legislation to encourage Medicare beneficiaries to create electronic advance directives, legal documents that allow patients to clearly articulate their preferences for their medical care should they suffer from a debilitating illness or condition.

The Medicare Choices Empowerment and Protection Act would offer a small, one-time financial incentive to encourage Medicare beneficiaries to provide clear legal guidance to their medical providers and family members should they become incapable of speaking for themselves. This legislation would incentivize Medicare beneficiaries themselves to create and register a certified and secure advance directive online. In addition, the bill would provide beneficiaries with access to a website with model advance directives representing a range of options. The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.

According to a 2006 study by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Americans have thought about their health care preferences should they be faced with a life-threatening illness or injury, but only one-third have completed an advance directive. Under the Medicare Choices Empowerment and Protection Act, Medicare beneficiaries would be able to voluntarily create and register an electronic advance directive with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at any time. Advance directives would be created through and maintained by outside organizations certified by CMS and could be modified or terminated at any time by the beneficiary. An advance directive would include any written statement that outlines the kind of treatment and care a beneficiary wants or does not want under certain conditions and can include identification of a health care proxy. Beneficiaries would also receive a one-time incentive for registering an electronic advance directive.

To address concerns about confidentiality, the Medicare Choices Empowerment and Protection Act requires CMS and outside groups maintaining advance directives to hold the highest standards for privacy and security protection as well as system functionality. CMS would only keep track of the certified organization through which a beneficiary has created an advance directive and would not keep a database of these documents. The bill does not interfere with any state laws governing advance directives.

“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation with my colleagues to empower patients to make their own health decisions,” said Coons. “By encouraging more Americans to have these difficult, but critically important conversations about the kind of medical care they wish to receive, this bill can help reduce heartache and confusion and allow patients to spend their final days as they see fit.”

The bill is also supported by the National Right to Life Committee.