The process of dying is complicated and overwhelming. Often times, it can be too much for the person and their family and loved ones to handle on their own. Hospice care is increasingly becoming what people turn to when they want guidance for the last stages of life.
In 2013, 1.3 million people used hospice services, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To put that in perspective, the CDC recorded nearly 2.6 deaths for 2013. Though all of those on hospice care may not have passed away within the year, that still means nearly half the people who died that year used some kind of hospice care.
The number of people using hospice looks to only be on the rise. The following year, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization found that 1.6 to 1.7 million people received hospice services. This data includes patients who died in hospice care, those who started hospice care in 2013 and it continued into 2014 and patients who left hospice care alive in 2014, for various reasons.
Numbers collected by the NHPCO in 2010 found that between 1.3 and 1.4 million people had used hospice care, indicating a steady increase in hospice services. So, why the increase? There are a number of factors at play:
Hospice Care Becoming Normalized
In the past, hospice care carried a lot of stigmas. That it was only for cancer patients, that it was where you went when you were “giving up” on fighting an illness, that it was only for the elderly, that it was too expensive, the list goes on and on.
But as doctors began recommending hospice or in-home care more often for people with terminal illnesses, these stigmas began to dissipate. People of any age can use end-of-life services, and there are even special pediatric hospice care teams.
People can start using hospice care long before their final days (to qualify for Medicare-covered hospice, a doctor must state the patient has less than six months to live). This can help the patient and their family and friends have more time to cope. Hospice care covers counseling by social workers and clergy members, which can make a difficult situation less overwhelming for family and loved ones.
Many people also assumed that hospice care was expensive, especially since it is around the clock and it’s often unknown how long the patient will need it.
Out-of-Pocket Costs Decreased
Hospice care is being increasingly used by people on Medicare, which covers hospice care almost completely. In an independent analysis of Medicare claims data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that of people who died and were covered by Medicare in 2001, 18.8 percent used hospice care for at least three days. In 2007, that percentage rose sharply to 30.1 percent. According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), 47.3 percent of patients with Medicare who died used hospice care in 2013.
The use of hospice also has been found to decrease hospital admissions and associated costs, which can be a large additional expense.
Baby Boomers Aging
The number of people over the age of 65 was about 46 million people in 2014, according to the Administration on Aging, which is about 14.5 percent of the population. This represents the rapid aging of the Baby Boomers, born right after World War II.
The Administration on Aging estimates that by 2060, there will be 98 million older people in the United States, more than doubling the current population. This will likely mean more people with chronic diseases that result in hospice care, such as cancer, heart failure, kidney and liver disease and more.