Stephanie Dwilson

A Palliative Care Primer

Even if you’ve heard of palliative treatments, you might not know exactly what they are. What do they involve? How do they contribute to your employees’ well-being and reduce overall health care costs? Is palliative care covered by insurance?

Here’s a primer to help you provide your employees with the best advice and information possible.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative treatment simply means “comfort care” for people with serious illnesses. It takes a holistic approach to a patient’s well-being that combines pain- and symptom-management with emotional and sometimes even spiritual support. The treatment typically involves a team approach, calling on experts from many fields, from doctors, nurses, pharmacists and nutritionists to social workers, counselors and chaplains, as NBC News reports.

This kind of care is about treating pain and symptoms in a way that allows patients to better understand their options and tolerate other medical treatments. Palliative treatment may help patients continue to live at home and stay out of the hospital. And the treatment can be tailored to the patient’s goals, whether that means living as long as possible or avoiding burdensome treatments that reduce quality of life.

One common misconception to put aside is that receiving palliative treatment means giving up. Likewise, it’s also helpful to remember that palliative care isn’t necessarily synonymous with hospice care, although hospice care may often employ palliative treatment. Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice points out that although palliative treatment does often serve people with life-threatening or terminal illnesses, it can also be used to help patients with serious illnesses stay on track with their health care goals. It’s geared toward improving the quality of life of any patient at any age, during any stage of a serious illness.

No studies have shown that palliative treatment shortens patients’ lives, NBC News reports. In fact, when palliative treatment is provided along with other care, patients’ quality of life improves — and in some cases, recipients may actually live longer.

Palliative Treatment, Health Care Costs and Your Benefits Plan

You might be surprised to learn that palliative treatment can actually help your employees save on health care costs. If palliative treatment is started within three days of admission, hospital costs may be reduced by about $3,000, according to NBC News. This works hand-in-hand with studies finding that, compared to hospital care, in-home care reduces health costs while patients receive the same overall quality of care. In fact, patients who receive hospital-level in-home care have only an 11 percent readmission rate, compared to 36 percent of hospital patients.

With these benefits in mind, how can you encourage your employees to consider palliative care for themselves or their loved ones? The first step is to find out whether or not your insurance covers palliative treatment. Although it’s often covered by Medicare or Medicaid when hospice is involved, many private insurance plans also cover this kind of care outside of hospice.

If your current plan doesn’t cover palliative care, consider revisiting your offerings. If coverage is available, bring your health care agent in to talk to your staff about when palliative treatment is appropriate and how it works. You can also give a presentation yourself or provide detailed literature about the option.


You’ll also want to stay up to date on the latest insurance law changes. For example, Medicare is now looking into covering hospice care that offers palliative treatment coupled with curative treatments, as AZ Central reports. Called the Medicare Choices Model, the test program currently includes 97 hospices in the U.S.

The benefits of this kind of care are substantial, no matter the stage of a patient’s illness or their age. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your employees know all about palliative care and the options that are available to them.

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