What is hospice care?

Hospice focuses on comfort rather than a cure, the goal being to ease the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain and stress of patients and families. In most cases care is provided in the patient’s home, skilled nursing facilities, and personal care homes.  Hospice care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid, most private insurance plans, HMOs, and other managed care organizations.

  • Hospice care is provided by a team of healthcare professionals, each addressing the different needs of the person and the family.  Specially trained volunteers are also available for extra help and to give family members a break.
  • Whenever possible people who choose hospice care continue to live in the comfort of their own homes in the care of those who know and love them best. However for those whose needs cannot be met at home, hospice care is provided in assisted living, nursing, hospital, and hospice facilities.
  • Hospice services are fully covered under Medicare Part A; Medicaid and many private insurance plans offer a hospice benefit.
  • Hospice care encourages the use of regular maintenance medications or medications that improve comfort and quality of life.

Who can receive hospice care?

Any person facing the advancing stages of a serious illness is eligible for palliative care. Hospice care is appropriate when the following conditions are met:

  • The physician believes that the patient will live six months or less if the disease runs its normal course, and the patient and family understand that the focus of hospice is on comfort (pain control and symptom management) not on finding a cure.
  • Aggressive treatments are not working or providing relief
  • The patient, family and physician agree and understand that the focus of hospice care is on comfort (pain control and symptom management), not on finding a cure All U.S. citizens age 65 and older are entitled to Medicare or Medicaid coverage for hospice at the end of life.

What does it cost?

Hospice care is covered by most insurers, including Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and most commercial insurers and HMOs. Hospice is a covered benefit under Medicare for people who have a life expectancy of six months or less. Medicare will pay 100% of all hospice team services, medications, durable medical equipment, and medical supplies related to the terminal illness and/or prognosis. For non-Medicare patients, any applicable patient pays, spend-downs, co-pays, or deductibles will apply.

How does hospice care work?

A care team of expert hospice physicians, nurses, home health aides, social workers, clergy, volunteers, and various therapists, treat and relieve pain and symptoms as well as provide emotional, spiritual, social and bereavement (grief) support, caregiving training and guidance with health care decision making. Trained volunteers also provide essential support. The team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Typically, a family member serves as the primary caregiver and, when appropriate, helps make decisions for the terminally ill individual.

What services are provided?

The interdisciplinary hospice team provides numerous services including:

  • Manage the patient’s pain and symptoms;
  • Assists the patient with the emotional and psychosocial and spiritual aspects of dying;
  • Provides needed drugs, medical supplies, and equipment;
  • Educates the family on how to care for the patient; and
  • Provides bereavement care and counseling to surviving family and friends.

How does hospice care begin?

Typically, hospice care starts as soon as a formal request or a ‘referral’ is made by the patient’s doctor.  Often a hospice program representative will make an effort to visit the patient within a few hours of that referral, providing the visit meets the needs and schedule of the patient and family/primary caregiver.