We spend our lives investing in ourselves and building our future in multiple forms, from financial (setting up college savings for our families and retirement funds for us) to building healthy habits and taking care of our health (nutrition and exercise) – but there’s one thing we don’t prepare for unless we absolutely have to, and that’s advance care planning.
Advance care planning provides a clear outline for the care you want to receive should you become ill and not be able to speak for yourself. This ensures clear communication with your doctor and your family.
Thinking about this type of planning can be a scary concept for most people and not something they want to think about. It can feel unnatural to think of a hypothetical situation sometime in the future, but the thing is, none of us really know how our lives are going to play out.
Interestingly, one of the reasons to think about advance care planning now is because of the medical advances we have in modern medicine today, giving us more choices for treatment than a generation ago. Unless there is clear direction from you, doctors and hospitals will do everything in their power to sustain life, and in some cases, that may not be the best choice. Decisions will be made for you unless you tell your doctors what you want ahead of time.
Advance care planning helps you take control of the care you may need in the future by giving you the opportunity to name the person you trust most to make decisions on your behalf. By proactively going through this challenging process now, you’ll be making things easier for the people you love later.
Additionally, Medicare will reimburse your doctor for having this discussion before illness strikes. Hospice care is one of the options to take into account when discussing advance care planning with your physician – it’s a program that’s focused on helping terminally ill people live out their lives as comfortably as possible, usually in their own home. Medicare’s hospice benefits would cover all of the care you would need.
When most people hear the word “hospice” they associate it with cancer patients and a program for death and dying. But neither is the case. The primary goals of hospice are to provide comfort, relieve physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering, and promote the dignity of terminally ill persons, regardless of what disease it is. Hospice care neither prolongs nor hastens the dying process. However, it’s not curative.
Medicare’s hospice benefit allows you and your family to stay together in the comfort of your home. If for a particular reason that isn’t possible and you need inpatient care, your provider will make all the arrangements for your stay.
Your physician will determine if you are eligible for hospice care from the following checklist:
- You have Medicare Part A (hospital insurance)
- Your hospice doctor and your regular doctor (if you have one) certify that you’re terminally ill
- You must have a life expectancy of six months or less
- You accept palliative care for comfort instead of care that is curative
- You sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for your terminal illness and related conditions
Once qualified for hospice care, you and your family will work with a hospice provider to set up a plan of care that meets your needs, including Medicare-covered services needed to manage your terminal illness and related conditions. This would include:
- Doctor and nursing services
- Medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, medical supplies, prescription drugs, etc.
- Hospice aide and homemaker services
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Speech-language pathology services
- Social worker services
- Dietary counseling
- Grief and loss counseling for you and your family
- Short-term inpatient care for pain and symptom management
- Any other Medicare-covered services needed to manage your terminal illness and related conditions as recommended by your hospice team
The hospice nurse and doctor are on-call at all times to give you and your family support. It’s also a good idea to include your regular doctor or nurse practitioner as part of your hospice team. This is a good idea because your regular doctor has historical knowledge of your health, disease, and treatments you’ve had in the past.
Lastly, you have the right to stop hospice at any time. If you do so, you’ll go back to the type of Medicare coverage you had before you chose a hospice provider. To find a hospice provider, talk to your doctor or call your state hospice organization.
For more information or to find your local hospice, go to The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
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