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Wednesday March 3, 2021

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Choose a Hospice Care Program

Where can I turn to find a good Medicare covered hospice provider? My husband's mother has a terminal condition and wants to pass away at home, if possible, so I am helping out where I can.

Hospice is a wonderful option in the last months of life because it offers a variety of services, not only to those who are dying, but also to those left behind. Here is what you should know about hospice care, along with some tips to help you choose one.

Understanding Hospice


Hospice care is a unique service that provides medical care, pain management and emotional and spiritual support to people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness – it does not speed up or slow down the process. The goal of hospice care is to simply keep the patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible, with loved ones nearby.

The various services provided by a hospice program come from a team of professionals that works together to accommodate the patient's end-of-life needs.

The team typically includes hospice doctors who work with the primary physician and family members to create a care plan; nurses who dispense medication for pain control; home care aids that attend to personal needs like eating and bathing; social workers who help the patient and the family prepare for end of life; clergy members who provide spiritual counseling, if desired; and volunteers who fill a variety of niches, from sitting with the patient to helping clean and maintain their property.

Some hospices offer massage or music therapy. Many provide bereavement services for relatives and short-term inpatient respite care to give family caregivers a break.

Most hospice patients receive care in their own homes. However, hospice will go wherever the patient is – hospital, nursing home or assisted living residence. Some hospice providers even have their own facility to use as an option.

To receive hospice care, the individual typically must get a referral from a physician stating that life expectancy is six months or less.

It is important to know that home-based hospice care does not mean that a hospice nurse or volunteer is in the home 24 hours a day. Services are based on the needs and requests of the patient and the family. Hospice care can also be stopped at any time if your mother-in-law's health improves or if she decides to re-enter cure-oriented treatments.

How to Choose


The best time to prepare for hospice and consider your options is before it is necessary. This helps minimize the number of important decisions that must be made during a stressful time. There are more than 4,300 hospice care agencies in the U.S., so depending on where you live, you may have several options from which to choose.

To locate a good hospice in your area, ask your mother-in-law's doctor or the discharge planner at your local hospital for a referral. You can also search online at Medicare.gov/care-compare, which provides lists and ratings of hospice providers in your area.

When choosing, look for an established hospice that has been operating for a few years and is certified by Medicare. To help you select one, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers a worksheet of questions to ask at CaringInfo.org.

Medicare Coverage


Medicare covers many aspects of hospice care and services for its beneficiaries. There is no deductible for hospice services although there may be a very small co-payment – such as $5 for each prescription drug for pain and symptom control, or a 5% share for inpatient respite care. Medicaid also covers hospice in most states, as do many private health insurance plans.

For more information, see the "Medicare Hospice Benefits" online booklet at Medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/02154-medicare-hospice-benefits.pdf.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published February 26, 2021
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