hospice myths debunked

The end-of-life care that hospice provides is too often not considered by many eligible  Americans—perhaps due to fears and misinformation. To help make an informed decision about whether this care is appropriate for you or a loved one, below is a list of myths and the actual truth about hospice.

To help make an informed decision about end-of-life care, below is a list of hospice myths—debunked and dispelled.

Myth: Hospice is a place.
Truth: Hospice care usually takes place in the comfort of an individual’s home, but can be provided in any environment in which a person lives: in a private residence, a skilled nursing home or an assisted living residence.

Myth: Hospice is only for cancer patients.
Truth: Over 50 percent of hospice patients nationwide have a diagnosis other than cancer. Hospice cares for people with any serious or life-limiting illness, including: heart disease, cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, cirrhosis, emphysema, kidney disease, AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease, among others.

Myth: Hospice is just for the patient.
Truth: Hospice focuses on comfort, dignity, and emotional support of the patient as well as family members and caregivers. Hospice may also offer a wide range of bereavement services and support for family members for up to 13 months following the loss of a loved one.

Myth: Once you choose hospice care, there’s no going back to traditional medical treatment.
Truth: Patients may leave a hospice program at any time for any reason without penalty. If a patient’s condition improves, he or she can be discharged from hospice and return to aggressive, curative measures, if desired. If a discharged patient wants to return to hospice care, Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies and heath management organizations (HMOs) will allow readmission if he or she meets the medical eligibility criteria.

Myth: If you choose hospice care, you won’t get other medical care and can no longer receive care from your primary care physician.
Truth: While the hospice team provides all aspects of care for the qualifying illness, you are still free to seek treatment for unrelated illnesses or conditions. For example, if you are receiving hospice care for heart disease, you can still get treatment for a broken bone. Hospice also works closely with your primary physician and considers the continuation of the patient-physician relationship to be the highest priority.

Myth: After six months, patients are no longer eligible to receive hospice care through Medicare and other insurances.
Truth: According to the Medicare hospice program, services may be provided to terminally ill Medicare beneficiaries with a life expectancy of six months or less. However, if the patient lives beyond the initial six months, Medicare, Medicaid, and many other private and commercial insurances will continue to cover hospice services as long as the patient shows a physical decline and is recertified by the hospice medical director due to the decline of the patient.

Myth: It’s the doctor’s responsibility to bring up hospice.
Truth: While it is the physician’s responsibility to determine whether a patient meets the medical eligibility criteria to receive hospice services, it is appropriate for the patient or caregiver to initiate the discussion with their primary

Myth: To be eligible for hospice care, a patient must already be bedridden.
Truth: Hospice care is appropriate at the time of the terminal prognosis, as long as the patient meets the medical eligibility requirement, regardless of the patient’s physical condition. Many patients served through hospice continue to live with the best quality of life possible.

Myth: Hospice care is expensive.
Truth: Medicare provides coverage for hospice care, with little out of pocket expense. Most private plans, HMOs and other health care organizations may include hospice care as a benefit. Additionally, through community contributions, memorial donations, and foundation gifts, many hospice programs are available to those who lack insurance.


Article provided Mary K. Spengler, CEO of Hospice of Westchester, a private not-for-profit organization that has been providing Westchester County residents with hospice services for 32 years. For more information, visit www.hospiceofwestchester.org.

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