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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Op-Ed: Elderly Americans in nursing homes should have hospice instead of agressive treatment

Two studies published today in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that a surprising number of elderly Americans in nursing homes should have hospice care instead of aggressive treatment.

Unfortunately, a large number of people who are eligible for hospice won’t take advantage of it. The reason? They have no idea that Medicare takes the financial strain completely off patients and their family caregivers.

Hospice care alleviates the many needs of patients as they approach the end of their lives. It also relieves the burden of family members and friends that have sacrificed much in caring for their loved ones. Hospice can be provided in a nursing care facility, in a hospital, or at home.

According to a recent survey by the National Hospice Foundation, 90 percent of Americans don’t know the Medicare Hospice Benefit exists, although this extraordinary coverage has been around for more than two decades. And while there are many reasons why people remain in the dark, one thing is clear: we need to shed the light on a benefit that is a godsend to many families.

The Medicare Hospice Benefit meets the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of terminally ill patients. It covers 100 percent of many services, including doctor visits, nursing care, medical equipment and supplies, hospice aides, homemaker services, physical and occupational therapists, and chaplaincy services. This is not end-of-life counseling. Hospice care helps the terminally ill live the remainder of their lives in dignity.

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 Cleveland, are certified by Medicare.

The Medicare Hospice Benefit lasts for as long as the patient is certified as terminally ill by a doctor or hospice medical director. Many believe that after six months, the benefit ends. In fact, if a patient lives longer than six months and is still deemed terminally ill, they can continue to receive hospice services at no charge.

Another little known fact: the Medicare Hospice Benefit continues after the patient passes away. The patient’s family is cared for through support services, such as grief recovery programs and chaplaincy services.

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