Heart disease and stroke have reached epidemic levels in our country. Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans; stroke is the fourth leading killer. One of every three deaths in this county is caused by cardiovascular disease.
That's why Medicare is helping to lead the Million Hearts campaign, a national initiative that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes during the next five years. Because February is also American Heart Month, I wanted to tell you what Medicare is doing to help fight this serious public health problem. And what you can do to fight it, too.
Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common one in the United States is coronary artery disease, which can trigger heart attack, severe chest pain, heart failure, and irregular heartbeat. Genetics, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and lifestyle factors such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise can contribute to heart disease.
Stroke is a brain attack that occurs when blood flow to the brain becomes blocked. This can be caused either by a blood clot or by a burst blood vessel in or around the brain. Lack of blood flow during stroke can cause portions of the brain to become damaged, often beyond repair.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare recently began covering new preventive health services to help people with Medicare reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke.
Starting this year, Medicare will pay for one face-to-face visit each year so that Medicare beneficiaries can discuss with their care providers the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The visit must be with your primary care provider, such as your family practice doctor, internal medicine doctor, or a nurse practitioner. And it has to take place in settings such as your primary care provider's office.
During the visit, your doctor can screen you for high blood pressure and give you advice on how to eat a healthy diet. The idea is to empower people with Medicare to make heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
Medicare also now covers counseling to help people with Medicare lose weight if they're obese. An estimated 30 percent of the men and women with Medicare are obese.
If you're obese based on your body mass index, you're eligible for face-to-face counseling sessions with your primary-care provider for up to a year.
In addition to the above services, Medicare pays for counseling to help people with Medicare stop smoking and to manage diabetes, which is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that most major risk factors for heart disease and stroke are preventable and controllable. These factors include inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and high cholesterol.
What can you do to reduce your risk? A good first step is talking to your doctor about your heart health and getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. Many other lifestyle choices - including eating healthy, exercising regularly, and following your doctor's instructions about your medications - can help protect your heart and brain health.
Ask your doctor, too, if taking an aspirin each day is right for you.
For more information about the Million Hearts campaign, and about Medicare's healthy-heart and other preventive health benefits, go to www.Medicare.gov .
If you'd like to check your 10-year risk of heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease - and what you can do about it - go to the American Heart Association's website, at www.heart.org. In the search box, type "heart attack risk calculator."
• David Sayen is Medicare's regional administrator for California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Pacific Trust Territories. You can always get answers to your Medicare questions by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).