By MARTHA EPLING
Executive Director of Crossroads Hospice’s office in Cincinnati
Despite the debate about whether or not Medicare should pay for end-of-life conversations between physicians and patients, one thing remains abundantly clear: These discussions must happen if we're going to respect people's wishes and provide the quality of care that everyone deserves.
And despite the perception that Americans don't want to talk about the issue, the facts say otherwise.
Among the quality-of-life options for those facing a terminal illness is hospice. A recent national survey from Crossroads Hospice found that when it comes to their own loved ones, one out of every three consumers and physicians said they would like to start the hospice conversation at the time of diagnosis or the start of treatment. Yet only one out of five physicians actually starts the conversation then.
Being ready to discuss hospice is clearly a very personal matter. Sadly, many physicians and patients wait until all treatment options have been exhausted to even bring up the subject.
It's no wonder that half of hospice patients today receive care for less than three weeks, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Another reason: 68 percent of consumers (68 percent) and a surprising number of physicians (36 percent) were unaware of the Medicare hospice benefit according to the new Crossroads survey. It's a coverage option that has been around for more than two decades and has not changed with the new healthcare policy.
The Medicare Hospice Benefit meets the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of terminally ill, Medicare-eligible patients. It covers 100 percent of many services, including doctor visits, nursing care, medical equipment and supplies, hospice aides, medications, homemaker services, physical and occupational therapists, and chaplaincy services. This is not just end-of-life counseling. Hospice care helps the terminally ill live the remainder of their lives with comfort and confidence.
Patients and their families can choose any Medicare-recognized hospice they want. More than 90 percent of hospices in the U.S., including Crossroads Hospice in Cincinnati, are certified by Medicare. The benefit lasts for as long as the patient is certified as terminally ill by a doctor or hospice medical director.
Another little known fact: Benefits continue after the patient passes away with support services for the family.
There are many resources available to learn more about hospice care. Medicare's web site, medicare.gov, has comprehensive information on the hospice benefit. To find local, Medicare-recognized hospice organizations, visit ohpco.org, the Ohio Hospice and Palliative Care Organization's free online resource.
Martha Epling is Executive Director of Crossroads Hospice's office in Cincinnati.