Skip to main content

BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

When to consider hospice care and the costs of delaying it

Oct 30, 2023 12:56PM ● By Laird Landon

Last month, I explored the relationship between palliative care and hospice care, emphasizing their shared commitment to improving a patient’s quality of life. 

Palliative care is what family caregivers do to ensure the safety and comfort of a loved one, while hospice care is end-of-life care provided by professionals. I discussed the fact that hospice provides palliative care, and that palliative care can be administered any time after a diagnosis. 

It can be hard to admit when a loved one needs hospice care. However, when there’s no hope for recovery or cure, delaying the transition to comfort care may also increase the costs and pain brought about by chemo, radiation and surgery. This cruel delay reduces quality of life, even if it may prolong it. 

In America, the average duration of a patient’s stay in hospice care is 76 days, which is considerably shorter than the six-month period typically offered by most hospice programs. As a result, many families wish that they had started hospice sooner. 

When I counsel families, I’ll sometimes ask each person to imagine their failing loved one when they were 50. I ask, “If he or she could imagine themselves today, what would they want for their care?” Most of us would ask for a comfortable end without financial burden and scary procedures.

Hospice professionals can provide care at home or in a facility. Hospice focuses on pain management and addresses physical, emotional and spiritual concerns of the patient and their family, employing a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains and volunteers. After death, bereavement support is also available.

Does Medicare pay for hospice?

It often comes as a surprise to many that Medicare covers hospice care. That’s because it relieves taxpayers of the burden of funding ineffective medical treatments. When a patient receives hospice care for six months, Medicare saves 11% when compared to the average expenses associated with non-hospice medical care. 

How do you qualify for hospice?

Medicare requires both a family physician and a hospice staff physician to confirm that a patient has a condition with a reasonable likelihood of death within six months. 

What happens if a patient lives past the six-month period? Medicare requires periodic checks. If a patient is not getting worse, he or she may be terminated from hospice, but may be recertified later if he or she starts to decline. My wife was recertified for almost three years before she died. 

Sign up for our Newsletter

* indicates required
I am a...