If hospice care has been suggested for you or someone you love, you may have questions about what it means and what to expect.
Here are five common questions with answers from hospice experts to help you understand hospice services.
1. What is hospice care?
Hospice care is end-of-life care, available to help terminally ill individuals live their remaining days with dignity. Services are available to patients of any age, religion, race, or illness, according to National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), and are provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, hospice aides, volunteers and others who give care to meet the patient’s and their family’s needs. These programs can assist the family (or other designated caregiver) in making the patient as comfortable as possible, with assistance available around the clock, seven days a week.
According to NHPCO, a family member typically serves as the primary caregiver, while members of the hospice staff make regular visits to assess the patient and provide additional care or other services. Staff members are also on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Palliative care is part of hospice care, and focuses on the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness. According to the NHPCO, most people receive palliative care along with other care they may be receiving.
Hospice also addresses the psychosocial needs of loved ones, with services to support a patient’s family both during the time the patient is receiving hospice care and after the patient has passed away, including bereavement care and counseling.
2. Who pays for hospice services?
Hospice services including palliative care may be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Veterans Affairs and/or health insurance plans. According to the Mayo Clinic, while each hospice program has its own policy regarding payment for care, services are often offered based on need rather than the ability to pay, and patients should ask about payment options before choosing a hospice program. Also, not all drugs and treatment may be covered, and patients or caregivers should review with the payer what will be covered and if any services are subject to a co-pay.
Medicare Hospice Benefits is a free official government booklet that includes information about Medicare hospice benefits: who’s eligible for hospice care; what services are included in hospice care; how to find a hospice provider and where you can find more information.
3. How does hospice care begin?
Hospice care is initiated as soon as the patient’s doctor makes a formal request or referral, with care generally beginning shortly after the referral is made and the hospice program representative meets with the patient. While care is intended for patients with six months or less to live, it can be continued as long as the patients’ person’s doctor and hospice care team certify that the condition remains life-limiting, notes the Mayo Clinic.
4. Where is hospice care provided?
While most hospice care takes place in the patient’s home, care is also available at hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and dedicated hospice facilities. Some patients might be cared for at a facility for a period of time to give the family caregiver a break from the physical and psychological stress of providing care. This is known as respite care.
5. Where can I get more information about hospice and hospice care services?
The following organizations can provide additional information about hospice services.
- National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) — The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) is the largest nonprofit membership organization representing hospice and palliative care programs and professionals in the United States. The organization is committed to improving end-of-life care and expanding access to hospice care with the goal of profoundly enhancing quality of life for people dying in America and their loved ones. Affiliate organizations include the National Hospice Foundation and Hospice Action Network.
- CaringInfo — CaringInfo (formerly known as Caring Connections) is a national consumer education and engagement program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). Since 2004, CaringInfo has provided millions of advance directives to individuals free of charge plus free resources and information to help people make decisions about end-of-life care and services before a crisis.
- Hospice Foundation of America (HFA) — A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, HFA provides programs for professional development, public education and information; funds research, produces publications, and provides information on issues related to advance care planning, hospice and palliative care, caregiving, and grief. Its programs for the public are designed to assist individual consumers of health care who are coping with issues of caregiving, terminal illness and grief.
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