A recent study by the Missouri Hospice & Palliative Care Association found that Missouri Medicaid recipients who choose end-of-life hospice care have lower Medicaid costs than those who don't.
"The data showed us costs are 45 percent lower for dying on hospice than in a hospital," said Jane Moore, chief executive officer of the association.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization defines hospice care as involving "a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management and emotional and spiritual support tailored to the patient's needs and wishes."
The study found that in 2011, the average cost of someone dying on hospice in Missouri was $126,000 and for those dying in a hospital, $284,000.
"Some of the takeaway is that we need to look at patients," Moore said. "Are we looking at all their choices and is hospice being put in the mix as an end-of-life choice?"
Diana Breen didn't consider the option of hospice services when her first husband died of cancer in 1996. But she did use the service with her sister and mother.
Currently, her aunt is receiving hospice services.
"We were taking her to the emergency room and trips to the doctor," said Breen, now a volunteer at Jefferson City's Hospice Compassus. "Now there's a nurse at her home, and it's not only easier for her, but also for the family."
She said she remembers when her mother would get sick at night, and Breen would call the nurse. Sometimes the nurse would come to take care of Breen's mother and other times she would talk Breen through what she needed to do for her mother over the phone.
"It was such a help for a nurse to come in and help with bathing, and not only that, for the volunteer who came and sat with her, and watched baseball with her," Breen said. "The biggest thing was after mother had passed, they also had bereavement help. I hadn't had that before. It really was a benefit, the support they give the family once the loved one is gone."
Moore said hospice is an optional benefit in most state Medicaid programs, and time and time again the benefit is on the chopping block. It's currently included in Missouri's Medicaid program.
"This study sheds light on the importance of maintaining hospice as part of every state's Medicaid benefit package," Moore said.