What Is Palliative Care? Planning For Future Medical Needs

June 1, 2021


As we think about the future, we know that part of planning includes considering what happens at the end of life. Many people will include funeral plans in their end-of-life financial planning and even go so far as to plan out details of the ceremony. Other preparedness efforts include Medicaid planning and having money in place to cover long-term care. One thing that often gets overlooked is the consideration of palliative care. What is palliative care, and why do you need to plan for it? Let's take a closer look. 

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is best understood in comparison to curative care. In curative care, the medical team is aiming to treat an illness, injury, or disease with the end goal of restoring the patient to prior health — or as close to it as possible. Curative care is often temporary, and success is measured in progress toward a return to normal function, pain levels, and abilities. Anytime we've recovered from a serious illness or surgery, we've likely received curative care including medications, physical therapies, and ongoing monitoring of our health conditions. 

Palliative care differs from curative care because the goal is not to restore a patient to prior levels of health and ability. Instead, the focus is on quality of life and providing the patient with the supports, relief, and treatments necessary to have the best day-to-day outcomes given the realistic severity of their condition at that given time. 

How is Palliative Care Different from Hospice?

When you hear that palliative care is not focused on curative treatments, you may wonder how it differs from hospice. Many people are familiar with hospice care as a treatment that patients receive at the end of their life. Hospice is typically reserved for patients with a prognosis of fewer than six months to live, and curative care is excluded from the services the patient receives while in hospice care. 

Hospice and palliative care share overlapping goals of providing comfort and relief of the symptoms of an illness, disease, or injury without focusing on a cure. However, there are some key differences between the two. 

First and foremost, palliative care does not exclude curative care. A patient may have some members of a medical team dedicated to curative treatment and other members focused on palliative care. The two aims are seen as complementary to one another. 

Secondly, hospice care typically comes at the end of a patient's life, but palliative care can come at any point in the progression of an illness, disease, or injury. We usually associate hospice care with older adults, but palliative care can be used to provide comfort to patients of any age and at any stage in their life. 

Who Pays for Palliative Care?

Another major difference between palliative care and hospice is how it is covered. Hospice services are often covered by insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. On the other hand, palliative care is typically paid for through a combination of insurance — depending on the details of the plan's coverage — and out-of-pocket payments. While a small number of Medicare plans do cover palliative care, many do not. 

Palliative care can be difficult to budget for because the length of the treatment can be unpredictable and quite long. If someone has a chronic condition that requires ongoing palliative treatment to live a high-quality life but not a diagnosis that suggests that life will end within a few months, individuals and families can be facing steep medical expenses to provide the palliative care that would bring the most benefit. 

As Pew reports, palliative care is actually quite cost-effective from a global point of view: "One study of homebound, terminally ill patients with a prognosis of approximately a year or less to live, plus one or more hospital or emergency department visits in the previous year, found that the average cost of care for those receiving palliative care services — $95.30 per day — was less than half the cost for those without palliative care — $212.80."

The problem is that many patients are unable to access palliative care because they are on a plan that only covers hospice treatment, and they have not received a prognosis of imminent death. This can leave families in a bind when it comes to making sure that the best, most appropriate care is available when it's needed most. More and more support for palliative care options for Medicaid and Medicare patients are moving forward, but the progress is uneven across different states. Florida Medicaid will help pay for palliative care. If you, or your loved one, does not currently qualify for Medicaid, its time to contact an elder care lawyer. 

As elder care attorneys, we use tools like  Medicaid planning and helping you choose insurance plans that allow for palliative care in their coverage can provide a range of treatment options that fit more complex medical conditions. It can be daunting enough to face a serious medical condition. You shouldn't have to do so without the tools and appropriate care that would make it easier and more comfortable. 

If you need assistance with Medicaid planning or planning financially for palliative care, please contact us to speak with an elder law attorney.