What is Palliative Care? Planning for Future Medical Needs

Palliative care is often referred to as pain management or comfort care and is an option that many people choose as part of their end-of-life care plan. 

Hospice and palliative care are similar, but not the same.  Hospice care is typically provided at or near the end of a patient’s life.  However, a patient may receive palliative care at any point during an illness or after an injury, at any stage of one’s life, and not only at the end of life.

A California estate planning attorney can help you include the option of palliative care in your estate plan. Let’s discuss palliative care and planning for future medical needs. 

An Overview of Palliative Care

Palliative care seeks to improve the quality of life for people with medical conditions that cause ongoing discomfort. For example, pain management may be just one type of palliative care. The specific services a person could receive as part of palliative care will vary depending on the individual’s situation. 

While the goal of palliative care is not necessarily to try to cure the person’s illness or injury, improving a patient’s comfort and quality of life can help to restore some normalcy to the individual. Sometimes, healthcare services designed to cure or improve the individual’s medical condition can improve their comfort. For example, certain types of physical therapy can improve range of motion, strength, and mobility, which can improve a person’s quality of life.

How Palliative Care is Different from Hospice

People often use the term palliative care as a synonym for hospice, but they are not identical. Here are some of the most significant differences between hospice and palliative care:

  • Hospice generally is available only to patients whose diagnosis gives them a likelihood of living less than six months. The goal of hospice is to help the patient be as comfortable as possible during their remaining time of life. You do not need to be terminally ill to receive palliative care.
  • Hospice services do not include curative care, in other words, treatments designed to try to cure the underlying disease. While palliative care does not focus on curative treatments, palliative care does not exclude curative treatments. 

Depending on the details of the specific hospice or palliative care program, there could be additional differences between the two.

Estate Planning Can Help You Exercise Control Over Receiving Palliative Care 

Many insurance policies cover hospice care. Also, Medicaid and Medicare provide some hospice services. Palliative care is a specialty that is only recently receiving the attention it deserves, so not all insurance policies cover these services. A few Medicare plans provide some coverage for palliative care. 

People with medical conditions that cause chronic pain and discomfort might not have coverage for palliative care because they are expected to live longer than six months. Insurance might pay a portion of some palliative care services or prescription drugs, but comprehensive coverage of palliative care has not yet arrived for most people. It can be a challenge to have an acceptable quality of life in this situation.

In addition to standard estate planning documents like a will or a living trust, you might want to consider having your lawyer draft a durable power of attorney that authorizes the person you name as your attorney-in-fact in your power of attorney to obtain palliative care if you are unable to communicate that wish for yourself at some point in the future. Your California estate planning attorney may be able to help you to choose an insurance plan that provides palliative care, to make a financial plan for palliative care, and to engage in Medicaid planning that could help you qualify for benefits to help pay for your medical care. Contact our office today for legal help. We offer a free consultation.