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U.S. unveils ambitious plan to reduce heart attacks

Julie Steenhuysen

Reuters

3:33 PM EDT, September 13, 2011

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(Reuters) - U.S. health officials are teaming up with insurance companies, pharmacies, health providers and community groups in a campaign to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over five years.

The plan announced on Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and several partners, will focus on reducing risk factors through smoking prevention, blood pressure and cholesterol control, and increased use of low-dose aspirin to prevent blood clots.

HHS plans to kick in $200 million in new and redirected funds toward the project, which marks a dramatic shift toward disease prevention.

"Heart disease causes 1 of every 3 American deaths and constitutes 17 percent of overall national health spending," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the so-called Million Hearts program aims to make the most of current investments and private sector and community-based resources.

The effort builds on strides in preventing heart disease deaths in the United States, which have fallen by 50 percent between 1980 and 2000.

Currently, every year more than 2 million Americans have a heart attack or stroke and more than 800,000 of them die, making heart disease the nation's leading cause of preventable deaths, according to an editorial by Frieden and Dr. Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A MILLION HEARTS

"If we succeed in achieving our Million Hearts goals, 10 million more Americans with high blood pressure will have it under control, 20 million more Americans with high cholesterol will have it under control, and 4 million fewer Americans will smoke by 2017," Frieden said in a statement.

The program will focus on helping Americans make healthy choices, such as preventing tobacco use and lowering consumption of salt and trans fats, and increasing use of treatments like aspirin and blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering medications.

The hope is that by 2017, 65 percent of high-risk patients will be taking aspirin and have their blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Currently, only 47 percent of high-risk patients take aspirin, and only 33 percent have their cholesterol and 46 percent their blood pressure under control.

They also aim to cut smoking to 17 percent of Americans from 19 percent by 2017, and seek a 20 percent drop in sodium intake and a 50 percent drop in trans fat consumption.

In the private sector, partners like Walgreen Co will provide free blood pressure testing, insurance companies such as UnitedHealth Group, WellPoint, Aetna and Cigna will focus on reducing heart risks through programs aimed at their members, and pharmacy groups will encourage members to raise awareness with patients.

"The treatment of heart disease and stroke account for about $1 of every $6 spent on health care in this country," said Berwick of CMS, America's health insurance program for the elderly and poor.

"By shifting our focus from paying for how much care is provided to how to get the best health for Americans and putting more tools into the hands of health care providers and patients, CMS can help prevent strokes, heart attacks and avoidable human suffering," he said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Eric Walsh)