Medicare offers a hospice benefit to plan holders with a terminal health condition. This benefit allows individuals to receive quality end-of-life palliative care.

Hospice care provides support for people approaching the end of their lives as well as support for their families.

A hospice program changes the focus of treatment. Healthcare professionals no longer actively work to resolve a person’s medical condition. Instead, they focus on providing comfort and supportive care to an individual nearing the end of their life.

Keep reading for more information on what Medicare covers for hospice care, the costs, and how long someone can expect coverage.

Glossary of Medicare terms

We may use a few terms in this article that can be helpful to understand when selecting the best insurance plan:

  • Deductible: This is an annual amount that a person must spend out of pocket within a certain time period before an insurer starts to fund their treatments.
  • Coinsurance: This is a percentage of a treatment cost that a person will need to self-fund. For Medicare Part B, this comes to 20%.
  • Copayment: This is a fixed dollar amount that an insured person pays when receiving certain treatments. For Medicare, this usually applies to prescription drugs.
  • Out-of-Pocket Costs: Out-of-pocket costs are the amount that a person must pay for medical care when Medicare does not pay the full cost or does not offer coverage. These costs can include deductibles, coinsurance, copayments, and premiums.
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Hospice coverage can vary according to a person’s unique situation. The key aspect is that hospice care represents a shift from curative to comfort-oriented treatments.

As a result, once someone uses their hospice benefit, Medicare may no longer pay for doctor’s visits or medications that aim to treat the condition.

To receive hospice care benefits from Medicare, a person must meet the following criteria:

  • A medical doctor and hospice doctor must certify that a person is terminally ill and likely to live for no more than 6 months.
  • A person must accept palliative care, which provides comfort instead of care that aims to cure or treat their illness.
  • The insured person must sign a statement indicating their desire to receive hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for their condition.

Here is how Medicare covers hospice care, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services:

  • With original Medicare (Part A and Part B), Part A covers the cost of hospice.
  • Medicare Part D may cover the cost of medications if Part A denies coverage for any reason.
  • A Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan may cover the cost of any additional comfort or support medications or treatment that Part A does not already cover.
  • Medigap may help cover the cost of deductibles or other noncovered costs, but it does not specifically cover long-term care costs.

Medicare resources

For more resources to help guide you through the complex world of medical insurance, visit our Medicare hub.

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Medicare will directly pay the healthcare professionals providing a person’s hospice care. When an individual enters a hospice program, they do not have to meet a deductible for hospice care.

However, some associated costs apply. These include:

  • monthly premiums for Medicare parts A (if applicable) and B
  • a copayment of up to $5 for prescription pain medications or other medications to manage discomfort
  • a 5% coinsurance of the Medicare-approved amount for inpatient respite care

If a person’s condition means they need hospital treatment while in hospice care, a hospice organization must make the arrangements. This is vital, as the healthcare professionals providing the hospice care will pay the hospital directly.

Learn more about palliative care with Medicare.

A person can activate hospice care when they have a life expectancy of no more than 6 months. If they live longer than this, a person’s doctor can recertify that they are terminally ill and need continued care.

A person also has the right to stop hospice care at any time if they wish to do so.

Hospice care can significantly reduce hospital stays and trips to the emergency room that someone may otherwise experience as they approach the end of their life.

Medicare pays for this to provide as much comfort and peace as possible to people with terminal health conditions as they near the end of their life.

Once coverage for hospice care begins, coverage for standard treatment no longer applies.