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American Heart Association Urges Congress to Accelerate Efforts to Enact Comprehensive Health Care Reform

And Increase Research Funding to Prevent Setbacks in the Fight Against Heart Disease and Stroke

WASHINGTON, March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- With thousands of Americans losing health coverage each day, the American Heart Association warns lawmakers that recent progress in reducing the prevalence of heart disease and stroke could be erased without comprehensive healthcare reform this year.

During a media briefing in Washington, American Heart Association leadership outlined the Association's main objectives for health reform legislation, which include effective prevention strategies, adequate and affordable coverage, and delivery system reforms that promote high quality and cost-effective cardiovascular care.

"We have a responsibility to urge lawmakers about the issues that concern our patients, particularly as they confront their health care challenges in this tough economic climate," said Timothy Gardner, American Heart Association President. "Time is not on our side."

As the baby boomers age, heart disease is projected to increase by 16% each decade and deaths from stroke are projected to increase nearly 100% between 2000 and 2032. Cardiovascular disease is projected to cost $475 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity in 2009, making it the most costly disease.

Research is another important way the association intends to address the cardiovascular crisis that lays ahead. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) invested a mere 4% of its budget on heart research and less than 1% on stroke. These disproportionately low levels of funding for the No. 1 and No. 3 causes of death will severely limit efforts to find new ways to prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce death and disability among heart disease and stroke victims, according to the Association. "The identification of a person's genetic susceptibility to heart disease and stroke and technologies that might one day regenerate heart muscle after a heart attack or brain tissue after a stroke are examples of research that will be delayed significantly unless more resources can be directed towards research," Gardner added.

"In some respects, we are victims of our own success," said Clyde Yancy, M.D., American Heart Association President-Elect. "Coronary heart disease and stroke death rates have each fallen by almost 30% since 1999 and this decline is closely related to NIH heart and stroke research. However we must increase funding in these areas to take us to that next level in cardiovascular prevention and treatment."

Risk factors, such as unhealthy weight, poor diet, smoking and diabetes, are on the rise and could undercut many of the gains made in recent decades, according to the Association. "We are concerned that the current economic downturn may exacerbate these trends, as incomes drop, layoffs increase and stress levels rise," said Yancy.

These risk factors could be addressed through preventive measures contained in any comprehensive healthcare reform bill as well as through legislation that combats childhood obesity and curbs tobacco use. Making evidence-based clinical preventive services part of health care coverage for all Americans and removing financial barriers to their use are top priorities for the Association in health care reform. These clinical services should ideally be bolstered by a public health infrastructure that promotes community-based prevention programs for obesity, tobacco cessation, hypertension, poor nutrition, and other cardiovascular risk factors.

Pending federal legislation supported by the association includes the Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids Act, which holds schools accountable for providing students with high quality physical education and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that would give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and advertising of tobacco.

About 15 percent of non-elderly adults who report having cardiovascular disease are uninsured. These individuals are far less likely than their insured counterparts to receive appropriate and timely medical care and as a consequence, suffer worse medical outcomes. The Association supports insurance market reforms that would prevent discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and believes that the best way to achieve this goal is through an individual mandate with appropriate premium subsidies for those who need them. The Association also supports provisions that increase lifetime and annual insurance caps as well as those that limit out-of-pocket expenses.

"Making health insurance coverage available to all Americans without regard to their pre-existing condition, age, or sex must be a critical component of health reform," said Nancy Brown, American Heart Association CEO. "Patients with cardiovascular disease should not have to go without health insurance -- simply because they need it the most."

"To help 'bend the cost curve' in health care expenditures, we believe our work in developing clinical guidelines, clinical decision-making tools, and performance measures for cardiac care can make a significant contribution," said Brown. The Association's Get With The Guidelines (GWTG) program helps disseminate evidence-based guidelines to the provider in real time through the use of health information technology. Expanded use of these tools and health information technology has the potential to improve the quality and efficiency of cardiovascular care, reduce medical errors, and help address health disparities.

"The Association is committed to working towards enactment of comprehensive health care reform this year. We look forward to working with the House and Senate Committees of jurisdiction and with the Administration in crafting a measure that will address the needs of our patients and improve the physical and fiscal health of our nation," said Brown.

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SOURCE American Heart Association
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