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Content Overview

Hospice Care 101



Hospice care is a specialized care program that focuses on providing the best quality of life, with the least amount of pain and discomfort, as well as taking care of emotional and spiritual needs. It is a shift from fighting a health condition. 

The amount of care varies according to the setting. Home care is usually limited to a nurse who visits several times a week, a doctor who may visit on occasion and a nurse available by phone 24/7. More round the clock care is available in a home-like setting in a hospice facllity or nursing home or a hospice section of a hospital. (As a general matter, hospital hospice is only for people who are so unstable that they cannot be moved. It is generally short term, such as 2 to 3 days.)

Payment: Hospice care is generally paid for by health insurance (including Medicare and Medicaid). Free hospice care is usually available if you do not have either hospice coverage or the money to pay yourself.

Life expectancy required to start hospice care: In order to be admitted to hospice care, it is generally required that there is a life-expectancy of six months or less. Some hospices permit people to start hospice care with a life expectancy of up to twelve months. Many insurance companies are extending coverage to a life expectancy of twelve months. Some insurance companies are also allowing continuing treatment for the illness in addition to care.

No maximum: There is generally no time limit about how long a person can remain in hospice.  However,  the hospice benefit is usually reviewed quarterly to determine whether the patient continues to meet eligibility criteria. If eligiblity continues, the benefit is usually renewed for another quarter. 

Once hospice care is started, it can be stopped at any time. The patient can return to aggressive treatment for a cure or otherwise go about living.

Benefits: Research has shown that patients and families who use hospice services report a higher quality of life than those who don’t. It is also not unusual for people who enter hospice care to live longer than originally expected.

When to start hospice care: Patient advocates generally recommend considering hospice care earlier during treatment rather than waiting untll death is imminent. Studies show that patients who enter hospice care earlier actually live longer than people who do not. 

If you are interested in hospice, let your doctor know. There is no reason to wait for a doctor to start the discussion about hospice care.

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