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Hospice FAQ

What is hospice?

Hospice is a compassionate method of caring for terminally ill people. Hospice is a medically directed, interdisciplinary team-managed program of services that focuses on the patient/family as the unit of care. Hospice care is palliative rather than curative, with an emphasis on pain and symptom control, so that a person may live the last days of life fully, with dignity and comfort, at home or in a home like setting.

Who makes the decision to enter a hospice program?

The law leaves the final decision up to the patient. However, the decision is usually made after discussion with the members of the family, the physician, clergy and others.


How does hospice work?

Hospice is for those persons who have a life expectancy of six months or less and can no longer benefit from curative treatment. Most hospice patients receive care at home and an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, counselors, therapists, social workers, aides and volunteers provides treatment. The hospice team provides medical care to the patient and support services to the patient and to the patient’s family and friends. Hospice does not attempt to cure, but rather to control pain and other symptoms in order to enable the patient to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Hospice addresses the medical, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of the patients and their loved ones. Hospice is provided seven days a week. Patients routinely receive periodic in-home services of a nurse, home health aide, social worker, volunteer and other members of the hospice team.


Where can I get information about hospice?

Information on hospice is available from your physician, any hospice in your area, medical societies, the American Cancer Society, the Social Security Administration, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the National Hospice Organization and the Texas & New Mexico Hospice Organization (800-580-9270).


Is hospice expensive?

Hospice care has been shown to usually be less expensive than conventional medical care during the last six months of life. Hospice care is covered by most private health insurance carriers, nationwide by Medicare and in New Mexico and Texas by Medicaid.


What does Medicare provide?

The Hospice Medicare Benefit provides:
*Nursing care on an intermittent basis
*Physician services
*Drugs; including outpatient drugs for pain relief & symptom management
*Home health aide & homemaker services
*Medical supplies & appliances
**   Short term inpatient care, including respite services
**   Medical social services
**   Spiritual, dietary & other counseling,
**   Continuous care at home during periods of crisis
**   Trained volunteers & bereavement services

What does Medicare not cover?

The Medicare Hospice Benefit does not pay for treatments or services unrelated to the terminal illness. Any attending physician charges would continue to be paid through Medicare Part B coverage. However, the standard Medicare benefit still helps pay covered costs necessary to treat an unrelated condition. In addition, the patient may be asked to pay 5 percent of the cost of outpatient drugs or $5 for each prescription, whichever is less and 5 percent of the Medicare rate for respite care.


Will I lose my Social Security benefits if I enter hospice?

Absolutely not. Medicare pays for the cost of hospice and Social Security payments are not affected.


What happens if I belong to an HMO?

HMO’s are not required to provide hospice care though many of them do. Any HMO receiving monthly payments from Medicare must inform Medicare recipients of Medicare certified hospice programs in the area. A hospice patient does not have to leave the HMO, and may continue to receive other HMO benefits not covered by Medicare.


How does hospice care for the patient?

Hospice offers palliative rather than curative care, with an emphasis on pain and symptom management through an interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers, bereavement counselors, clergy, physical and speech therapists and volunteers who address the medical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs of the patient and their loved ones. Hospice is usually provided in the home, but it can be provided in a nursing home or inpatient facility if available. Upon entrance to a hospice, the hospice team will assess the patient’s needs and prepare an individualized care plan. The care plan will address medication and equipment needs and outline the care to be provided by the family and the hospice. This plan is updated periodically to allow for increased care as the patient’s condition changes. Care giving at home is not always easy and hospice provides telephone consultation on a 24-hour basis and night visits, when appropriate. In addition, hospice volunteers can be provided to run errands or a staff member for needed “respite” care to give family members a break and/or provide companionship to the patient.


Does hospice do anything to make death come sooner?

Hospice neither hastens nor delays the process of dying. Hospice affirms life and regards dying as a natural part of life. It uses sophisticated methods of pain and symptom control to enable the patient to live as fully and comfortably as possible. Hospice is concerned with the patient’s quality of life up to the time of death.


What happens if I change my mind about hospice?

A patient  that elects to be discharged from hospice has the right to re-enter the program so long as they still meet the criteria for hospice eligibility. If a patient is discharged for no longer meeting hospice eligibility may re-enter hospice is their condition changes to the point that they now meet hospice eligibility criteria.