Archive for Sunday, August 5, 2001

Sense for seniors

August 5, 2001


Q:I've heard that the federal agency that administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs has changed its name with the new administration. Will these programs change, too?

A: Here's the answer from the newly named Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services:

On June 14, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson announced the first wave of efforts to reform and strengthen the services and information available to the nearly 70 million Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries and the health care providers who serve them.

As part of this effort, Thompson unveiled the new name for the federal agency that administers the Medicare and joint federal-state Medicaid programs the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, formerly the Health Care Financing Administration. The new name reflects the increased emphasis at CMS on responsiveness to beneficiaries and providers and on improving the quality of care that beneficiaries receive in all parts of Medicare and Medicaid.

To achieve these goals, CMS will:

Launch a national media campaign to give seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries more information to help them make informed decisions about how they want to get their health care. This national campaign will highlight health care options, and the information resources available include and the free national hotline (800) MEDICARE or (800) 633-4227.

Instill a new culture of responsiveness at CMS in serving beneficiaries, physicians and other health care providers, states and lawmakers.

Enhance the national free hotline to a 24-hour, 7 days a week service that will provide far more detailed information to help beneficiaries to make Medicare decisions.

Reform the contractor process to improve the quality and efficiency of the Medicare claims processing services that pay nearly a billion fee-for-service Medicare claims each year.

Restructure the federal agency around three centers that reflect the agency's major lines of business: the Center for Beneficiary Choices, the Center for Medicare Management, and the Center for Medicaid and State Operations.

If you have a Medicare question or would like to find out what Medicare publications are available for free, call (800) 633-4227, or visit CMS's Web site at

Q: What is the difference between a health care power of attorney and a "living will?"

A: The Kansas Bar Assn. (KBA) has both document forms and an explanation of their use in a pamphlet that you can get free by writing: KBA, 1200 Harrison, P.O. Box 1037, Topeka 66601, or by calling (785) 234-5696.

Here is some of the information the pamphlet provides:


Living will: A statutory living will is a written statement of your wishes regarding your medical treatment if you are in a terminal condition.

It is only effective if two physicians have determined you are terminally ill.

Durable power of attorney for health care decisions: a written document in which you authorize someone whom you name (your "agent" or "attorney-in-fact") to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to speak for yourself.

In the document you can give specific instructions regarding your health care which will require the agent to make decisions in accordance with your directions.

The Difference:

A power of attorney can cover all medical decisions. Statutory living wills only apply to decisions regarding "life-sustaining treatment" in the event of a "terminal illness." A terminal illness does not include Alzheimer's Disease, dementia or coma. A durable health care power of attorney can be effective any time or, if you want, at any time you are unable to make or communicate a decision. The agent you appoint can make any decisions you direct, including decisions about health care beyond those covered by your living will.

If you have a question or comment for "Sense for Seniors," write to Betty Gibb, Kansas Senior Press Service, 11875 S. Sunset, Suite 200, Olathe 66061.

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