Home Health vs Palliative Care vs Hospice – What’s the Difference?

No one wants their loved ones to be in pain. When it comes to improving your loved one’s quality of life, you may be wondering just what services are available to you. In your search for answers, you may have some across several terms, such as “in-home care,” “hospice care,” and “palliative treatment.” Not knowing what to expect, these terms may blend together and make the process of searching for pain-management solutions confusing.

Knowing what each of these terms means, however, can put your family on the right track toward improving an ailing loved one’s quality of life and well-being.

Home Health vs Palliative Care vs Hospice – What’s the Difference?

Reducing individual discomfort and improving overall quality of life is the primary goal of several healthcare services, including home health care, palliative care, and hospice care. Despite how similar these terms are, however, they are not the same. Knowing the distinctions between them can help you decide which one is the right fit for your family.

What is Home Health?

Home health care is healthcare that someone can receive within the comfort of their own home. These services may include wound care, injections, family caregiver education, and patient education.

Also called: In-home care, social care, domiciliary care

Services offered: Healthcare services delivered in a home or apartment, rather than a facility

Covered by Medicare? Yes, with caveats

Original Medicare (Parts A and B) must meet the following eligibility requirements in order to have their home health services covered:

  • Be receiving care and receive regular monitoring by a licensed medical doctor
  • Have a licensed doctor certify that you are homebound
  • Have a doctor certify that you need specific health services, such as skilled nursing care, speech language pathology, continued occupational therapy services, or physical therapy

Covered by Medicaid? Exact coverage varies by state

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is an umbrella term that covers any sort of treatment where the primary goal is relief from pain and other discomfort caused by symptoms of a medical condition. The primary goal of palliative care is symptom management, not curing the underlying condition itself. That said, people can receive palliative care alongside treatment that aims to cure the medical condition.

Also called: End-of-life care (EOLC), palliative treatment, comfort care, supportive care, palliative medicine

Services offered: Symptom management and pain relief, with or without curative intent

Covered by Medicare? Yes, with caveats

Medicare may help pay for palliative care, but only under certain conditions. Primarily, Medicare will cover palliative care when it is considered hospice care, or care that is only intended to provide relief to patients. If someone does not have a terminal illness or is attempting to treat/cure the condition, Medicare may not cover costs associated with palliative care.

Covered by Medicaid? Varies by state and program

According to the official Medicaid site, palliative care can be part of hospice care. Medicaid’s Hospice Benefit is “an optional state plan service,” meaning that coverage is not always guaranteed, depending on the state and program.

What is Hospice?

Hospice care services can fall under palliative care in many cases. It is a specific type of care where the patient is terminal and all attempts to cure the underlying condition have ceased. The primary goal is to improve quality of life for people by managing their symptoms and reducing pain or discomfort. It is not given alongside medical treatment with the intent to cure.

Also called: End-of-life care (EOLC), non-curative treatment

Services offered: Symptom management and pain relief, without curative intent for terminal patients

Covered by Medicare? Yes

Medicare may cover costs associated with hospice care when the patient receives a terminal diagnosis and has ceased attempts to cure/treat the condition.

Covered by Medicaid? Varies by state and program

As stated above, Medicaid hospice coverage can vary.


Is Palliative Care End-of-Life Care?

Many people call palliative care “end-of-life care,” although sometimes people can receive palliative treatment alongside treatment that aims to cure someone’s medical condition. The better term for “end-of-life care,” when no curative treatment occurs, is hospice care.

How Long Can You Be in Palliative Care?

Someone can receive palliative care as soon as they receive a diagnosis. Depending on the stage of illness, someone might receive long-term care from a palliative care team. When someone stops receiving curative treatment for a life-limiting illness and is given 6 months or less to live, the treatment is known as hospice care.

Hospice vs Palliative Care – Which is Better?

There is broad overlap between these two terms, and some even use them interchangeably.

When someone does not use two terms to represent the concept, hospice care is post-treatment, meaning it is only to provide comfort and symptom relief to terminal patients. In other words, it is a specific type of palliative care. Palliative care is the umbrella term that means providing care purely for pain and symptom relief, without the intent to cure. However, palliative care in general can occur at any stage of an illness, either at the time of diagnosis or during end-of-life care.

These slight distinctions may not seem like much, but they are critical for deciding the best way to reduce unwanted side effects from a serious illness, particularly one that can affect life expectancy. What insurance plans may cover might vary depending on how these services are classified and billed as well.

Which one is best for your loved one depends on several factors, the most important likely being prognosis. For example, if your loved one chooses to receive curative treatment, they may be eligible for palliative care in addition to said treatment. If your loved one receives a terminal diagnosis, they may opt for hospice services.

Either one can help improve your loved one’s quality of life.


Disclaimers: This article does not constitute professional, legal, or medical advice. While we strive to maintain accuracy, due to the nature of these topics, we cannot guarantee full accuracy of all information on this page.