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Medicare guidelines for hospice

Medicare provides specific guidelines for hospice care to ensure that eligible beneficiaries receive appropriate and compassionate end-of-life care. Here’s a detailed overview of Medicare guidelines for hospice care

Eligibility for Medicare Hospice Benefits

To qualify for Medicare hospice benefits, the following criteria must be met:

  1. Medicare Part A:

    • The patient must be enrolled in Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance).
  2. Terminal Illness Diagnosis:

    • A doctor and the hospice medical director must certify that the patient is terminally ill, with a life expectancy of six months or less if the illness runs its normal course.
  3. Choice of Hospice Care:

    • The patient must choose hospice care over curative treatments for their terminal illness. This means focusing on palliative care aimed at comfort rather than treatments intended to cure the illness.
  4. Medicare-Approved Hospice Provider:

    • Hospice care must be provided by a Medicare-approved hospice program.

Covered Hospice Services

Medicare covers a range of services under hospice care, aimed at providing comfort and support rather than curative treatment. These services include:

  1. Medical Services:

    • Visits from doctors and nurse practitioners.
  2. Nursing Care:

    • Regular visits from registered nurses and licensed practical nurses.
  3. Medical Equipment:

    • Items such as wheelchairs, hospital beds, and oxygen equipment.
  4. Medical Supplies:

    • Supplies needed to manage the terminal illness, such as bandages and catheters.
  5. Medications:

    • Drugs for symptom control and pain relief related to the terminal illness.
  6. Therapies:

    • Physical, occupational, and speech therapy as needed.
  7. Hospice Aide Services:

    • Help with personal care, such as bathing and dressing.
  8. Social Services:

    • Support from social workers to help with emotional and social issues.
  9. Grief and Loss Counseling:

    • Bereavement counseling for the patient and their family.
  10. Short-Term Inpatient Care:

  • For pain management and symptom control that cannot be managed at home. This includes care in a hospice facility, hospital, or nursing home.
  1. Respite Care:
  • Short-term respite care in a Medicare-approved facility to give the primary caregiver a break, typically up to 5 days at a time.

Levels of Hospice Care

Medicare hospice benefits cover four levels of care:

  1. Routine Home Care:

    • The most common level of hospice care, provided in the patient’s home or a long-term care facility.
  2. Continuous Home Care:

    • Provided during periods of crisis to manage acute medical symptoms, with continuous nursing care at home.
  3. General Inpatient Care:

    • Provided in a hospital, hospice inpatient facility, or skilled nursing facility for patients who need pain control or symptom management that cannot be provided at home.
  4. Inpatient Respite Care:

    • Short-term care provided in a Medicare-approved facility to offer respite to the primary caregiver.

Certification and Recertification
  1. Initial Certification:

    • For the first 90 days of hospice care, a doctor and the hospice medical director must certify that the patient is terminally ill with a life expectancy of six months or less.
  2. First Recertification:

    • After the initial 90 days, a face-to-face visit by a hospice doctor or nurse practitioner is required for recertification for another 90-day period.
  3. Subsequent Recertifications:

    • Following the first two 90-day periods, the patient can be recertified for unlimited 60-day periods as long as they continue to meet the eligibility criteria.

Cost and Coverage
  1. No Cost for Covered Services:

    • Medicare covers the full cost of hospice care for covered services, with no deductible or copayment required for hospice care itself.
  2. Copayments for Drugs and Respite Care:

    • There may be a small copayment (up to $5) for each prescription drug and other similar products for pain relief and symptom control.
    • For inpatient respite care, there may be a 5% coinsurance of the Medicare-approved amount.


Medicare’s hospice benefits are designed to provide comprehensive, compassionate care for terminally ill patients, focusing on quality of life rather than curative treatments. Understanding these guidelines helps ensure that eligible patients receive the necessary support and comfort during their final stages of life. If you or a loved one is considering hospice care, it’s essential to discuss options with healthcare providers and ensure all eligibility criteria are met for Medicare coverage.

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