A Basic Guide to Hospice Care for Cancer Patients

Understanding Hospice Care and How to Pay for It

A nurse cares for a hospice patient.
A nurse cares for a hospice patient. LWA/Getty Images

Hospice is a type of care received in the final stages of life when one is stricken with a terminal illness. The hospice philosophy emphasizes caring, not curing. The goal is to make the patient as comfortable as possible during their last days.

Hospice care is given when a patient no longer responds effectively to treatment and has a life expectancy of six months or less. It does not speed up death or delay it.

Quality of life in hospice is more important than the length of time the patient has left.

Services Provided in Hospice Care

Services provided vary at each hospice, however, they all provide care and services such as:

  • Psychological, spiritual guidance and helping to cope with dying
  • Pain and symptom management
  • Short term inpatient services when pain and symptoms become too great, and when family members need respite time
  • Education for family members on how to care for their loved one
  • Medical equipment, drugs and supplies
  • Bereavement care and counseling to surviving family members

Where Hospice Care Is Given

Hospice care can be given in the patient's home, a hospital, independently owned hospice home or a nursing facility that provides hospice care. They all share a family-oriented environment, allowing family members to be caregivers. While in the United States, most patients choose their home as their hospice, independent homes can offer support and services for those who do not have family members to care for them.

All hospices are staffed with trained professionals, such as physicians, specially trained nurses, members of the clergy, psychologists and social workers.

Who Decides When to Seek Hospice Care?

Choosing hospice care is a personal decision made by the patient. A physician or family member cannot force a patient into a hospice environment.

It is important for the patient to be fully aware of their options in end-of-life care. Hospice is a choice that can improve quality of life and allow family members to be more involved in the time they have left with their loved one.

Paying for Hospice

When considering hospice care, you will eventually consider the costs. Unfortunately, the costs associated with hospice care deter many families from seeking it. However, with careful planning and knowledge of resources, hospice care can be affordable.

Private Insurance Coverage

Many private insurance companies cover hospice care. Inpatient services at hospices located in a hospital may have a daily charge. See your policy for more information, or meet with your local agent.


Medicaid covers hospice care in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Medicaid is state funded insurance offered to low-income  families. Coverage varies from state to state. Contact your local Department of Health office for more information about Medicaid.


Medicare hospice benefits are covered under Medicare Part A (hospital insurance). There are several prerequisites to receive hospice benefits:

  • You meet all eligibility requirements of Medicare Part A.
  • You have been certified to be terminally ill from your physician and the hospice director. The certification must attest that you have six months or less to live.
  • You must sign a statement declaring your choice of hospice care instead of normal Medicare benefits.
  • The hospice you choose must accept Medicare.

For more information on Medicare Hospice Benefit, please see the Medicare Hospice Guide, a government publication provided by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Grants and Donations

Many hospice centers receive grants and donations from various sources to help cover costs for care. Funding from these sources is usually applied to patients who do not have health insurance, or the cost share of their insurance is very high.

Each hospice has a financial specialist on staff to answer any inquiries about receiving financial assistance.

As you can see, hospice care isn't just limited to those who can pay out of pocket. One of the goals is to limit the financial burden on the patient and their family. Most hospices accept all private insurances, Medicare and Medicaid. Claims are processed expediently to ensure care is given as soon as possible.

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