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Parameters of “Health Care Decisions” Under the Health Care Proxy Statute

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently decided two cases which touched upon an issue that many medical facilities and health care providers encounter on a regular basis.  Specifically, the SJC addressed the issue of what constitutes a health care decision that can be made on a patient’s behalf by a party acting under a health care proxy.
In the Johnson v. Kindred Healthcare and Licata v. GGNSC Malden Dexter LLC cases, the Supreme Judicial Court decided whether a health care agent’s actions could bind a patient to an arbitration agreement with a medical facility.  In both cases, the health care agent signed an arbitration agreement on behalf of an elderly relative.  The SJC held that signing an arbitration agreement was not a “health care decision” as the term is defined in the Health Care Proxy Statute.  Notably, the SJC explained that health care decisions are limited to those decisions that “directly involve the provision of responsible medical services, procedures, or treatment of the principal’s physical or mental condition.”

These cases make it clear that for an arbitration agreement to be binding the agreement should be completed by the patient (if the patient is competent to do so), not a person acting on the patient’s behalf under a health care proxy.  The decisions seem to indicate that an arbitration agreement will likely be enforceable if it has been signed by a party acting on the patient’s behalf pursuant to a valid power of attorney, rather than a health care proxy.
When you or a loved one is being admitted to a nursing home, contact your estate planning attorney for a review of the contracts and agreements being signed, as well as advice about who should be signing them and how.
For questions regarding the enforceability of an arbitration agreement or health care decisions, please contact Attorney Andrew M. Kepple, Jennifer D. Taddeo, Melissa A. Howitt or John Dugan at Doherty, Ciechanowski, Dugan & Cannon, P.C. at 508 541-3000.