Insurers, hospices expand care options

Traditionally, hospice programs have only been available if patients agreed to give up on end-of-life treatments such as chemotherapy. In recent times, however, some hospices and insurance companies have taken a new "open access" approach, giving patients access to some hospice-style social supports and benefits while allowing them to continue some end-stage treatments. The idea is to get these patients into hospice care earlier, rather than encouraging them to wait until they're all but certain that they're near death. If patients do arrive earlier, it can not only improve their quality of life but avoid what often turns into a costly hospital stay prior to death, experts note. At least two major insurers, Aetna and UnitedHealth, are experimenting with letting hospice patients get advanced care while in hospice programs. Also, many of the country's 4,200 hospice programs are offering advanced medical treatment themselves, even if they don't get reimbursed directly.

For more about the new hospice approach:
- read this New York Times piece