Did You Know?
President Lyndon B. Johnson, with the support of Congress, held the first American Heart Month in February of 1964. Since then, the federally designated month has continued to raise awareness of heart health and the preventative measures you can take to lower your risk.
- Heart disease and cardiovascular disease are synonymous. They are both umbrella terms that include blood vessel and artery diseases, heat rhythm disorders, heart defects, strokes, and many more.
- Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., killing more people than all forms of cancer combined.
- 1 in 3 American adults have at least one type of heart disease.
- In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 40 seconds. Every 4 minutes, someone dies of a stroke.
How You Can Protect Yourself from Heart Disease
Many of the factors that increase your risk of heart disease are uncontrollable such as age, gender, race, and family history. Thankfully, factors that are considered to be the leading causes of heart disease can be controlled, including:
High Blood Pressure
- This “silent killer” usually does not have any obvious symptoms but it hardens and thickens the walls of blood vessels, limiting blood flow. Thus, it is important to regularly check your numbers! If you are already taking medication for high blood pressure (also called hypertension), make sure you follow your doctor’s orders. See below to know how Medicare covers blood pressure screenings.
- Cholesterol is often thought of in a negative light, but it is a necessary molecule for our bodies to function. Some of cholesterol’s many important functions include providing structure to every cell in our body, producing hormones to regulate salt and water balance, creating bile to aid digestion of fatty foods, and it is a precursor to cortisol, which is used in regulating blood sugar, boosting your immune system, and helping you to cope with stress. Too much cholesterol leads to the formation of plaque, which can build up in arteries blocking blood flow and potentially break off into a clot. This can compromise your brain or heart and lead to a stroke or heart attack.
- High blood glucose weakens your blood vessels and the nerves that control your heart and vessels. Along with checking your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly, make sure to check your A1C levels and speak with your doctor about what your A1C goals are.
- Excess weight is known to cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Read the above pointers to see why you should shed the extra weight.
- It is no secret that junk food is “bad” and fresh fruits, veggies, and lean meats are “good”. But do you have to give up your favorite comfort food? No! You do need to cut back how often you eat it and decrease the portion size though. Another piece of advice from the CDC is to try a lower-calorie version of your favorite dish. Check out their nutritious food recommendations here! They also have a delicious spin on the classic macaroni & cheese dish that adds spinach and tomatoes. Yum!
- Exercise helps your heart’s efficiency and ability to pump more blood throughout your body. This allows your heart to beat slower, which keeps your blood pressure in check. Along with strengthening your heart muscles, exercising daily for only 30 minutes can increase your “good” HDL cholesterol which helps to remove “bad” LDL cholesterol (HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides). Use the talk/sing test to make sure the exercise is vigorous enough! If you can not talk, you are working too hard. If you can sing, you are not working hard enough.
- Overconsumption of alcohol can increase cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This leads to fatty buildup in your blood vessels, which (once again) restricts blood flow. However, it is debated if red wine is good for heart health. The American Heart Association’s response to that statement is that the same “flavonoids and other antioxidants [that] can potentially reduce heart risk [are also] found in other foods like grapes or red grape juice or blueberries”. So it is safe to say you should stick to the recommended maximum 2 alcoholic drinks per day for men and maximum of 1 for women.
- Nicotine constricts your blood vessels and carbon monoxide can damage a vessel’s inner lining. These factors make vessels more susceptible to the buildup of plaque.
Reading (and writing) all this information is easy. Taking action is what’s difficult.To ensure you stick to it, partner up with your spouse or friends! It also helps to start with smaller and more detailed goals such as “my friend and I will go to the gym every Tuesday” rather than “I will exercise more”. A very important goal to start with is making an appointment with your doctor for preventative screenings.
What Tests and Preventative Measures for Heart Disease Are Covered by Medicare?
- Cardiovascular behavioral therapy visit is covered once per year. This visit entails discussing the ways you can lower your risk of heart disease via lifestyle changes or medication(s).
- Blood pressure screenings are included in the Welcome to Medicare Visit, Annual Wellness Visit, and the routine check when you visit your doctor. Additionally, you can also use the free blood pressure machines located in many pharmacies or you can purchase your own device to take measurements.
- Cholesterol screenings are 100% covered once every five years unless you have a Medicare Supplement plan, which will cover the full cost if you need the screening more often. If you do not have a Medicare Supplement plan, you will need to pay the 20% coinsurance.
- Cardiac stress testing, electrocardiograms (EKG), echocardiograms, nuclear imaging, and cardiac catheterization are only covered by Medicare with known or suspected heart disease based on symptoms. Thus, without a Medicare Supplement plan expect the 20% coinsurance.
- Abdominal aortic aneurysm screening is 100% covered for the first screening if your doctor is a participating provider. However, there are a few additional requirements based on gender. Men must have a family history of aortic aneurysm or be between 65-75 years of age and have smoked 100 or more cigarettes in your lifetime. Females must have both a family history and have smoked 100 or more cigarettes in your lifetime. Beyond that first screening, Medicare will not pay unless you are exhibiting symptoms.
What Insurance Plans Can Help Me?
Having a Medicare Supplement plan can help pay for preventative services relating to heart disease. These plans can also aid in drastically reducing your medical bills if you need to have any major surgeries such as a heart bypass surgery or a stent placement.
However, there are many other costs that need to be considered such as:
- Transportation (for follow up visits, physical therapy sessions, etc.)
- Hotel stays for you and your family
- Going out to eat
- Co-pays or coinsurance for prescription medications
- Loss of income
- Other expenses
The best way to protect yourself from these unforeseen costs is with a Heart Attack or Stroke Insurance plan. These plans will provide you a lump sum benefit from $5,000 – $75,000 (in $5,000 increments) when you are diagnosed with a heart attack or stroke.