Definition of Hospice Care: Truths, Realities and Myths

family member in home hospice

The goal of hospice is to offer comfort to patients and their love ones who choose to focus on quality of life rather than a cure for a terminal illness. It is an option for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, as determined by a doctor and a hospice medical director. 


You can still get care after six months Patients and families can continue to get hospice support as long as the hospice medical director re-certifies, at a face-to-face visit, that a hospice patient is terminally ill.


You can stop hospice care and return to currative treatment at any time. For example, a patient’s health may improve while on hospice or a new treatment may become available.


Patients still get care for non-terminal conditions

Hospice patients continue to get regular medical care for conditions not related to their terminal illness. For example, a patient with diabetes can get checkups and diabetes medication with Medicare of their other insurance.

Guaranteed Medicare hospice benefits

Medicare benefits mandate a specific list of services for all Medicare hospice providers. These services include:


  • Doctor services and consultations, including a plan of care
  • Nursing care
  • Medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers or medical beds
  • Medical supplies, like bandages or catheters
  • Prescription drugs for symptom control or pain relief related to the terminal illness
  • Hospice aide and homemaker services
  • Respite care to give caregivers short-term relief. 
  • Physical therapy services
  • Occupational therapy services
  • Speech-language pathology services
  • Social work services
  • Dietary counseling
  • Grief and loss counseling for you and your family
  • Volunteer services for errands, friendly visits or light support for caregivers
  • Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage pain and other symptoms related to the terminal illness.


Hospice programs sometimes offer additional services such as music therapy, pet therapy, massage therapy and more.

Respite care

The Medicare hospice benefit also includes respite care so family caregivers have time off to recover and recharge. Medicare benefits pay for up to five consecutive days of inpatient care at a nursing facility or hospital. For patients already living in a nursing facility, the hospice benefit adds an extra layer of supportive care on top of 24-hour nursing care.


After hours, weekends and holidays

Hospice nurses are available 24/7 for emergency needs. Your care plan includes contact information and emergency information. Let the hospice know about lapses in emergency care.

The hospice team

hospice for mother

Hospice is a fully covered Medicare benefit

Coverage includes nurses, other caregivers, medicines, supplies, equipment and support, with no out-of-pocket expenses for the hospice diagnosis.


Call a program near you for information