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Palliative Care vs Hospice Care

The rise of palliative care in the United States has increased confusion around the subject for many, particularly for adults who had a family doctor that managed all care from birth to death.  While the care options were rather limited fifty years ago, so was the life span of our population.  With many cancer types rapidly becoming a chronic disease, long term care of life-ending disease is becoming quite common.

Enter Palliative Care 

By definition palliative care is "health care for individuals who have a life limiting illness."  Palliation is care to maintain individuals, not cure them.  Helping people to live their lives to the fullest with a chronic disease is the goal of all palliative care specialists.   It does not prevent one from receiving treatment; in fact, many palliative care patients are under active treatment to prolong life.  What palliative care does is to help manage the symptoms of your chronic disease.
Hospice on the other hand, is widely known to be care for the dying.  Because the largest payer for hospice care is the Medicare program, the government sets the criteria for hospice care to be individuals who have a life expectancy of six months or less.

While the goal of both hospice and palliative care is to encourage living life to the fullest, they differ in the projection of life span.  Individuals who enter hospice care generally have a short life expectancy, while those in palliative care may live for many years.  Both offer “palliative care” which is comfort by definition, though in palliative care the illness does not need to be terminal in the near-term.  In both hospice and palliative care, a team of professionals works together to provide care in a coordinated effort.

Payment for these two types of care differs significantly, and it actually helps to define the differences. 

Hospice care is all-inclusive care provided by a team and paid for with a daily rate to the hospice covering most of a patient’s care, medication, and equipment needs. 
Palliative care is paid through the traditional per-visit billing method for professional services, from palliative care specialists, to insurance or the Medicare program. 

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