If you have been diagnosed with a terminal illness, hospice centers are available to provide the medical care and emotional support you need at this difficult time. These centers are staffed by teams of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who help people with terminal illnesses manage their symptoms. If you decide that hospice care is right for you, there are several things you should do before you enter this type of program. Doing these things ahead of time will help prevent legal, medical, and financial problems during your stay.
1. Have a lawyer draw up a power of attorney document.
Once you enter the hospice program, you may not be able to make major financial decisions or decide whether to consent to certain medical treatments. A power of attorney gives someone else the right to act as an "attorney-in-fact" and make these decisions on your behalf. The person you select should be someone you trust, such as a spouse, sibling, or child. An attorney will help you create a power of attorney with restrictions appropriate for your personal circumstances.
2. Make sure your doctor completes the necessary certification.
Medicare Part A covers hospice care, but only if the patient has been certified terminally ill by a physician. Before you enter the hospice program, be sure your doctor completes the necessary paperwork. Under Medicare guidelines, your physician must certify that you have no more than six months to live. If you live longer than expected, the hospice physician or director must submit a recertification of terminal illness every six months.
3. Write your last will and testament.
If you have not yet written a will, meet with an estate planning lawyer before you are admitted to the hospice center. A last will and testament explains how you want your estate managed after you pass away. This document also makes it easier to ensure the right people receive your assets. If you pass away without creating a will, it could take months for your heirs to settle your estate.
4. Hire someone to help you sort through your belongings.
You may have to limit the number of personal items you bring with you to the hospice center. If this applies to you, hire at least one person to help you sort through the contents of your home. Your helper can lift heavy boxes, shred personal documents, and arrange for your local charity organization to pick up items you would like to donate. Working with another person eliminates the burden of having to do everything on your own.
5. Contact your insurance company to verify coverage.
If you do not qualify for Medicare, or you have a private policy in addition to Medicare, verify your coverage before entering a hospice center. Doing so will help you determine if you should expect to pay any copays or out-of-pocket costs. In some cases, your physician may have to obtain prior authorization from your insurance company before providing certain medical services. When you contact your insurer, ask the representative to explain the authorization process to you so you know what to expect once you are admitted to the hospice program.
6. Spend time with your loved ones.
As your illness progresses, you may want to spend some time alone. Now is a good time to meet with your loved ones and tell them how much you care. You don't have to spend a lot of money or do anything that will tire you out easily. Just spend time talking, watching home movies, looking at photographs, or doing something that means a lot to both of you.
People with terminal illnesses may experience temporary improvements or worsen quickly. There's really no way to determine how your disease will progress, which is why it is so important to do these things before you enter hospice care in your area. By taking these steps before you are admitted, you have the opportunity to make the process easier on you and your loved ones.