Business Group Blog

Reframing Palliative Care to Supportive Care

“If palliative care were a pill, it would be prescribed to every patient with serious illness in the country.”

 – Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times


What is palliative care?

Palliative care is more than just care delivered in a hospice or used at the end-of-life to relieve pain and symptoms before death. Palliative care should be offered alongside “curative” treatment for several chronic and life-threatening illnesses.


Why is the Business Group talking about palliative care now?

The Business Group suggests employers use the term supportive care instead of palliative care in their benefits communication strategy. This term better describes the breadth of such services without the confusion or stigma of “palliation.” More than ever, health systems and payers are embracing innovative approaches to expand and reimagine this type of care. This is no surprise given that several studies show these vital services extend life, improve quality of life, and reduce unnecessary use of high cost intensive care, but are widely under-utilized. Employers and their employees stand to benefit greatly from rebranding and expanding this type of care. 


What is supportive care?

At its most basic, supportive care is meant to alleviate symptoms and reduce suffering for a patient. Supportive care can be provided alongside curative care, which seeks to eliminate the underlying cause of the symptoms. Supportive care should be provided at time of diagnosis for several illnesses. An important goal of changing the terminology to supportive care is to emphasize that these services can help patients “live well,” rather than just alleviating their symptoms. 



What can employers do?

Employers should consider several steps to expand access to and promote supportive care for appropriate employees, dependents, and caregivers.

  • Provide coverage for supportive care at point of diagnosis for patients suffering from serious illnesses.
  • Communicate the availability of supportive care options to employees and dependents in plain language.
  • Require health plans and other relevant vendor partners to proactively reach out to patients once they’ve received a diagnosis for a serious illness to make them aware of available supportive care services.


For more detail and ideas, see the Business Group’s More Than a Name Change: Reframing Palliative Care to Supportive Care publication.