In English | En español
Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Fact Sheet

  • Reviewed: 04/18/2006

Search Fact Sheets by Keyword

Page Options

  • Print This Page
  • Email This Document
  • View/Print PDF


Key Points

  • Hospice care focuses on controlling pain and other symptoms of illness so patients can remain as comfortable as possible near the end of life.
  • To be eligible for hospice care under most insurance plans, patients must have a life expectancy of 6 months or less and agree to forgo curative treatment. Services can be provided to patients at home, in hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, or in hospice centers.
  • Hospice expenses may be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or other health insurance plans.
  1. What is hospice?

    Hospice is a concept of care that involves health professionals and volunteers who provide medical, psychological, and spiritual support to terminally ill patients and their loved ones. Hospice stresses quality of life—peace, comfort, and dignity. A principal aim of hospice is to control pain and other symptoms with palliative care so patients can remain as comfortable as possible. Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. To receive hospice services under most insurance plans, including Medicare, patients must generally have a life expectancy of 6 months or less and agree to forgo curative treatment. Hospice programs provide services in various settings: the home, hospice centers, hospitals, or skilled nursing facilities. Patients’ families are also an important focus of hospice care, and services are designed to give them assistance and support.

  2. Where can people learn more about hospice?

    The following organizations can provide more information about hospice.

    National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
    1–800–658–8898 (helpline)
    1–877–658–8896 (multilingual line)

    The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization offers hospice-related information and publications. Some Spanish-language publications are available.

    Hospice Association of America

    The Hospice Association of America distributes publications on such topics as the history of hospice, the benefits of hospice, hospice-related statistics, and locations of hospice organizations.

    Hospice Education Institute

    The Hospice Education Institute operates HOSPICELINK, a directory of all hospice and palliative care programs in the United States. HOSPICELINK also provides information about the principles and practices of good hospice and palliative care.

    Hospice Net

    Hospice Net provides information and support to patients facing life-threatening illnesses and to their families and friends.

    American Cancer Society
    1–800–ACS–2345 (1–800–227–2345)

    The American Cancer Society (ACS) provides free fact sheets and publications about hospice. The address of a local ACS chapter can be obtained by calling the organization’s toll-free telephone number.

  3. Does insurance cover hospice expenses?

    For many people, some hospice expenses are paid by health insurance (both Medicare and private insurance). Information about the types of medical costs covered by a particular private policy is available from an employee’s personnel office, a hospital or hospice social worker, or the insurance company.

    Medicare is a government health insurance program for the elderly and disabled that is administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). To find a Medicare-certified hospice program, people can ask their doctor, a state hospice organization, or the state health department. The telephone number for state hospice organizations and health departments can be found in the state government section of a local telephone directory.

    The Medicare hotline can answer general questions about Medicare benefits and refer people to their regional home health intermediary for information about Medicare-certified hospice programs. The hotline number is 1–800–MEDICARE (1–800–633–4227); callers with TTY equipment can call 1–877–486–2048. The booklet Medicare Hospice Benefits also has information on this topic.

    Medicaid, a federal-state partnership program that is part of CMS and is administered by each state, is designed for patients who need financial assistance for medical expenses. Information about coverage is available from local state welfare offices, state public health departments, state social services agencies, or the state Medicaid office. Information about specific state locations may also be found on the Medicaid website.

    Local civic, charitable, or religious organizations may also be able to help patients and their families with hospice expenses.

This text may be reproduced or reused freely. Please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source. Any graphics may be owned by the artist or publisher who created them, and permission may be needed for their reuse.