The Difference Between Palliative Care & Hospice Care

« Back to All Blogs
Man wearing a hat looking past the camera
Published:  January 16, 2023

Hospice vs. Palliative Care

If you have a loved one who is living with a chronic or debilitating illness, you have probably heard of ‘palliative care’ and ‘hospice care’ and may have simply assumed they were the same. That said, you might be surprised to discover, that these concepts are two very distinct approaches to treating and managing someone’s pain and symptoms of illness. In fact, while both hospice and palliative care offer compassionate care for patients,  their primary focus differs, how, where, and when they are used in the healthcare process, and even how they are paid for. Read on to learn more about the difference between palliative care and hospice care, and find out which is most appropriate for your loved one.

Palliative Care: What Is It?

The primary focus of palliative care is relieving the symptoms of a patient’s condition while they receive active treatment. Palliative care is available for all kinds of patients suffering a life-limiting illness, regardless of age, condition, or stage of illness. While palliative care can be offered in the home, palliative care is commonly offered as a part of a comprehensive care program, alongside medical care, in an extended healthcare facility or nursing home.

Serving as a comprehensive approach to promoting the comfort and well-being of patients, palliative care focuses on attending to a patient’s holistic needs as well as their physical. In this way, palliative care assesses and addresses the physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual needs of a patient and their families. Moreover, palliative care services can be offered alongside remedial care or hospice care to address the physical and emotional side effects of treatment, and to ensure that your loved one receives the care and attention he or she deserves.

Hospice Care: What Is It?

In contrast to palliative care, hospice care is primarily for patients who have less than six months left to live and is tailored to assist them in managing their pain and discomfort, while helping their family transition and prepare for their loved one’s end-of-life. In addition to managing a patient’s symptoms, hospice care may assist a patient and their caregivers with other necessary activities, such as bathing and dressing, or meal prep. Once registered by their primary care physician, hospice care is usually administered wherever the patient calls home, while supervised by a team of hospice care experts.

Keep in mind that while all hospice care is considered palliative, not all palliative care is considered hospice. A patient can transition from palliative care to hospice care when their physical symptoms become too difficult to manage by their regular caregivers, requiring more regular visits from a professional care team. As such, hospice care teams provide compassionate support to hospice patients by enhancing their comfort and providing anticipatory guidance throughout the end-of-life process. Moreover, to support everyone involved, hospice care can provide support and bereavement services to a patient’s family leading up to, and after their loved one’s death.

Hospice vs. Palliative Care: Timing & Medical Coverage

As mentioned above, there are no time restrictions on palliative care. Palliative care is for all patients, at any time or stage of their illness, regardless of whether it is terminal or not. Hospice care, in contrast, is reserved for terminally ill patients who have 6 months or less to live, assuming their disease takes its normal course. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid typically require a referral from a patient’s primary physician to confirm that treatment is no longer a viable option for the patient to begin to receive the benefits of hospice care.

Palliative care is often paid for by regular medical insurance, however, it can also be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance companies. Keep in mind, however, that each item will be billed separately, just as they are with regular hospital and doctor visits. For more details, check with your insurance company, doctor, or palliative care provider.

Hospice care, by comparison, is usually paid for in full by the Medicare Hospice Benefit program or by Medicaid Hospice Benefit. In addition, the Veteran’s Administration and most health insurance companies also cover hospice care services, either in full or with minimal co-pays. Keep in mind: while most hospice programs cover all payments, insurance coverage can vary, so it’s always important to check your loved one’s policy limits for payments before you consider hospice care.

Speak To Traditions Health For More Information

We hope this article has helped give you a better understanding of the differences between palliative and hospice care. For more information about the benefits of either program or their differences, contact Traditions Health today.

Share with a patient, family member or colleague