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Understanding The Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care

Paying for Hospice Care: Understanding the Affordability of Hospice

When researching medical care options for your loved one, it can be all too easy to feel overwhelmed by the plethora of terminology used to describe different forms and variances of services. One of the most common areas of confusion is the difference between palliative and hospice care. While palliative care and hospice care have a close relationship with one another, there are key differences in the overall purpose, application, and practice of these care practices. Understanding the definitions and focuses of each care method allows for a clearer picture of the differences between palliative care and hospice care.

Palliative care does not seek to postpone or hasten death...

Understanding Palliative Care

Palliative care is medical care that is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, ailments, and pain that accompany a chronic or life-threatening illness, regardless of whether or not the illness is terminal or non-terminal. Palliative care does not seek to postpone or hasten death, but seeks to improve the overall quality of life of those who are suffering from a serious illness.

Team-based Care Philosophy

Palliative care, like hospice care, is a multi-disciplinary, team-based care methodology that employs the skills of physicians, social workers, therapists, specialists and counselors to provide your loved one, family, and friends with comfort and comprehensive support while living with a chronic or life-threatening illness.

Complementary to Curative Treatments

Palliative care, being care that is focused on alleviating pain and symptoms and improving overall quality of life, can be used in conjunction with treatments and care options that are designed to cure your loved one’s serious illness or prolong life. If your loved one wishes to pursue curative options, palliative care can be introduced alongside curative measures at any stage of the illness in order to provide comfort and care.

Understanding Hospice Care

When a loved one is diagnosed with a terminal disease, the impact is felt in all aspects of life and affects everyone to whom your loved one is connected. Seeking to live the remaining time in comfort, your loved one may wish to forego curative or life-prolonging treatment options and instead focus on living as pain-free as possible, pursuing time well-spent with loved ones, while living the life they wish to lead prior to death.

Coordinated Care and Comfort for the Whole Person

Hospice care provides your loved one with the ability to live comfortably and in the comfort of wherever your loved one calls home. Hospice is a holistic, patient-centered philosophy of team-based care that promotes comfort and fullness of life rather than seeking a cure to a terminal illness. The use of hospice care by no means signifies that your loved one is giving up on life, nor is it reserved for people of specific religion, age, disease, or race. Hospice prioritizes your loved one's wishes for personal care when facing a terminal illness, allowing for the highest quality of physical, spiritual, emotional, and social care, and a dignified death.

Support for Caregivers, Family, and Friends

In addition to the quality care and comfort your loved one receives with hospice care, your loved one’s hospice care team is also comprised of highly-trained emotional and spiritual support staff who will help family, friends, and caregivers throughout the end-of-life journey. From bereavement counseling to spiritual guidance, the hospice team is trained to help all those connected to your loved one understand, cope, and live more fully throughout your loved one’s remaining days and beyond.

Hospice care, while specialized for those with terminal illnesses, employs the use of palliative care methods to provide comfort for your loved one’s whole person, as well as you, your loved one’s family, caregivers, and friends.

Hospice care provides your loved one with the ability to live comfortably and in the comfort of wherever your loved one calls home.

The Differences Between Hospice and Palliative Care

While the hospice care philosophy incorporates palliative care practices, there are a few key differences that distinguish hospice care and palliative care from one another.


Hospice care is designed to provide optimal care and comfort -- physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially -- for those who have a terminal illness, often defined by a life expectancy of less than 6 months. Hospice seeks to improve the quality of the remaining time your loved one has, rather than seeking curative or life-prolonging measures.

Palliative care can be provided for any person with a serious illness, regardless of whether the illness is terminal or non-terminal. Palliative care can be introduced into your loved one’s care regimen no matter what stage the illness is in and can be incorporated alongside curative and life-prolonging treatments.


To qualify for hospice care, your loved one must meet a series of requirements to determine eligibility. Your loved one must:

  • Have a primary care physician and hospice medical director certify a reduced life expectancy.

  • State acceptance of comfort care measures and not pursue curative treatments.

  • Formally elect to pursue hospice care with a specific organization.

To begin receiving palliative care, your loved one can simply request a palliative care referral from a physician at any stage of the illness.

Care Location

Hospice care is a holistic care philosophy -- not a place. If your loved one lives with you, independently at home, at a nursing home, or at a care facility, your loved one can receive the team-based, whole person-focused care of hospice no matter where they call home. Hospice also works closely with your loved one’s current physician, allowing your loved one to continue receiving care from the doctors with whom they already have a close relationship.

While palliative care can be received at home, palliative care is often administered in a hospital setting, outpatient clinic, or extended care facility that is associated with palliative care. Palliative care, like hospice, works with your loved one’s current physician in order to provide you with pain and symptom relief.

Payment Options

While many payment methods exist for covering the costs of hospice care, hospice care is often affordable, with costs being primarily covered by the federal Medicare hospice benefit program. Hospice care costs can also be covered by your loved one’s state Medicaid program or private insurance policy.

Palliative care, being most often administered by your loved one’s regular medical provider, is most commonly paid for by private medical insurance; however, Medicare Part B and some state Medicaid programs can also offer coverage for forms of palliative treatment. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of your loved one’s payment options concerning palliative care, contact your loved one’s insurance provider and palliative care provider prior to receiving any care services.

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Providing Care for Your Loved One’s Whole Person

Wading through the seas of medical care terminology can be cumbersome; however, by having a keen understanding of what hospice and palliative care offer and where they differ, you can be of great aid to your loved one when considering care options. No matter what type of care best suits your loved one’s needs, you can rest assured knowing that your loved one will receive care that is focused on providing comfort and care for the whole person.


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