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Heart Health

Seven Ways to Modify Heart-Disease Risk

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths per year. Yet many cases could be prevented by improving a number of factors the AHA calls Life’s Simple 7. Here, from the AHA experts, is an outline of what these factors are and how they could save lives.

The numbers are stunning: More than $41 billion a year in Medicare costs could be saved if all beneficiaries achieved ideal levels for five to seven heart-healthy habits to reduce cardiovascular risk, according to new research in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

The researchers who estimated those figures used one year of follow-up data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, a national, population-based, longitudinal study. They focused on Medicare claims for 6,262 beneficiaries over the age of 65 with fee-for-service coverage and no prior history of cardiovascular disease.

Specifically, Life’s Simple 7 is a composite measure of seven modifiable heart-healthy factors:

*Cigarette smoking

*Physical activity

*Diet

*Body mass index (BMI)

*Blood pressure

*Cholesterol levels

*Glucose levels

The researchers found that just 6.4 percent of participants had five to seven of the factors.

Participants with lower scores were more likely to be women, black or be unmarried, or have an annual income less than $20,000 or have less than a high school education.

Those with higher scores were also less likely to have all-cause and cardiovascular disease-related inpatient or outpatient encounters in the year following their in-home study visit.

Total inpatient and outpatient healthcare expenditures were $5,016 less for participants with the most ideal heart-healthy factors compared to those with the least number of factors, according to the AHA news release.

By extending estimates from the primary analyses to corresponding 2014 Medicare beneficiaries, researchers found:

Participants with fewer than five of the heart-healthy measures accounted for more than half of all inpatient costs each year, and approximately one-third of total outpatient claims.

The potential annualized cost reduction is $41.2 billion for inpatient, outpatient and total expenditures, respectively, if all Medicare beneficiaries had five to seven Life’s Simple 7 factors.

“The actual cost for persons with fewer than five to seven factors is almost certainly higher,” according to Kristal J. Aaron, Dr.P.H., M.S.P.H., lead author and clinical data manager at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. “Skilled nursing facility, home health and hospice care, durable medical supplies, and medications were excluded in this analyses; thus, our study was limited to inpatient and outpatient visits for beneficiaries with Medicare fee-for-service in the 2014 calendar year, so this is probably a very conservative estimate.”