What is Hospice?

Hospice provides palliative care to terminally-ill patients.  "Palliative care" is nursing support and physician treatment aimed not to cure disease but to reduce suffering caused by disease.  The hospice philosophy holds that a person’s needs at the end of life are wholistic, including emotional, spiritual, and social needs, as well as physical and pain relief needs, which hospice calls a patient’s “total pain.”  A patient’s needs extend to the patient’s social intimates’ needs as well, whose grief is treated as an integral part of the death of the patient.  In the United States, Medicare covers hospice palliative care, as well as follow up care for the decedent’s loved ones following the death.  Medicaid and most health insurance plans also cover the costs of hospice care.

Government and medical care management organizations (HMOs) have expressed concern about hospice services being prescribed before terminally-ill patients are within six months of death, despite the obvious difficulty in knowing exactly how many months any person has to live.  The fiscal concerns of these agencies have led to under-utilization of hospice services, with an attendant increase in needless suffering among hospice-appropriate patients.