Elder Law

Hospice Care for the Terminally Ill

Hospice care is an important option when you are terminally ill, or when you are caring for someone with a terminal illness. The primary focus of hospice care is palliative - to alleviate the pain and stress of the illness in the last months of life. Hospice care can be offered at home or at a dedicated hospice.

Elderly persons make up the majority of hospice patients in the United States. To better choose an appropriate setting for hospice care, you should understand what benefits are available through Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, or other sources.

Medicare Provides Hospice Benefits to Eligible Persons

Your Medicare benefits pay for hospice care when your doctor certifies that you have no more than six months to live and that the care is reasonable and necessary for your condition. Medicare also pays for services related to hospice care, including counseling and chaplain services, homemaker service, and home health aides. Caregivers are also entitled to "respite care," inpatient care that is intended to give some relief to an at-home caregiver. You can get respite care for up to five consecutive days.

Your Doctor's Input Is Important

To receive Medicare hospice benefits, your doctor must certify your eligibility and develop a hospice-care plan. The benefits are based on life-expectancy, not a specific illness, such as cancer. You need not be bedridden or have a do-not-resuscitate order. Your doctor will most likely include in the plan other hospice professionals needed to alleviate the pain and stress of your terminal illness.

Hospice Care Through Medicaid

Medicaid is sometimes available to help pay for hospice care for elderly persons who have very little income and few assets. The federal government sets broad guidelines for and funds Medicaid. However, because each state runs its own Medicaid program, the terms of eligibility vary with where you live. Under federal guidelines, hospice-care benefits are optional, not mandatory.

Hospice Care from Private Insurance and Other Sources

If you do are not eligible for hospice care under Medicare or Medicaid, hospice-care benefits may be available through other insurance plans or nonprofit agencies. Insurance companies will often provide hospice-care benefits. In cases where insurance coverage is an issue, hospice programs typically have benefactors who fund hospice-care coverage for those who cannot afford it.

An Elder Law or Healthcare Attorney Can Help

The law surrounding hospice care for the elderly can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an elder law or healthcare attorney.

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