The Affordable Care Act: Heart Healthy Reform

This post is part of a weekly “Did You Know” blog series that highlights important, but not well known features of the health reform law about prevention, wellness, and personal responsibility for our health. 

HeartsDid you know that February is American Heart Month, and that the Affordable Care Act is already working to save lives and save money by improving our heart health?

With an emphasis on effective preventive health measures, the Affordable Care Act has set in motion a comprehensive strategy to improve health and cut costs of treating chronic disease. Part of that strategy includes a targeted effort towards reducing the prevalence, severity, and costs of heart disease.

Heart disease, like other chronic diseases plaguing our country, is costly, life threatening, and often preventable. And, heart disease is increasingly prevalent and expensive to treat. According to the Million Hearts initiative, one out of every three people in the United States suffers from some form of heart disease, which includes severe chest pain, heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke. Heart disease claims more lives yearly than all forms of cancer, lower respiratory diseases, and accidents combined. This devastating chronic health condition kills 2,200 people every day in the U.S., and costs our country $444 billion every year in health care costs and lost economic productivity.

Fortunately, as we celebrate American Heart Month this year, we have some compelling reasons to be optimistic about the health of our hearts. One reason for optimism is that heart disease is largely preventable. By shifting our focus to preventing diseases before they occur, we save money and, more importantly, save lives. For many, it can be as easy as talking to your doctor yearly, keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, and living a healthy lifestyle. However, we recognize there are barriers to this kind of healthy living for some. After all, if people don’t have access to things like basic medical care or healthy foods, knowing how to prevent heart disease may not be enough. These barriers need to be addressed in tandem with education efforts about preventive health

And this is where another reason for optimism comes in—the Affordable Care Act. The ACA is effectively shifting the focus in the United States from treating costly diseases to preventing them. The ACA is also changing the way health insurance companies do business so that obtaining coverage is fair and affordable for everybody. The ACA requires insurers to provide a number of preventive services free of cost sharing for many consumers, including screenings for obesity, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels; counseling on the use of daily aspirin to reduce the risk of stroke; and counseling on weight loss and a healthy diet, among others.  

The health reform law also increases access to affordable and fair health coverage by expanding the Medicaid program to include an additional 16 million people, and by providing tax credits and subsidies to eligible families to offset the cost of health insurance. In addition, the ACA bans many bad practices that kept many people with chronic illnesses uninsured and without access to necessary medical care. For example, insurance companies are no longer allowed to place lifetime or annual limits on coverage or deny people health insurance based on a preexisting condition

Finally, in a bold and unprecedented effort to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes in five years, the ACA put in motion the Million Hearts initiative. The Million Hearts initiative will focus on “improving access to effective care; improving the quality of care for the ABCS (aspirin therapy, blood pressure control, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation); focusing clinical attention on the prevention of heart attack and stroke; activating the public to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle; and improving the prescription of and adherence to appropriate medications for the ABCS. To learn more, visit Million Hearts online.

And this isn’t all that the ACA does to help people with heart disease get access to the medical care they need. To learn about other ways the Affordable Care Act is making a positive impact on the lives of people living with heart disease, visit the American Heart Association on the web

Interested in an in-person presentation on how health reform is rolling out in Illinois and what it means for individuals? Are you a direct service provider or advocate for vulnerable populations and interested in how the Affordable Care Act will impact the population you serve? Rachel Gielau, health policy expert at the Shriver Center, is giving free in-person presentations to Illinois audiences on how health reform is affecting individual and families in Illinois. Contact Rachel Gielau at 312-368-1154 to set up a presentation for your organization!

This blog post was coauthored by Rachel Gielau.


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