Every day, all across the country, the work continues in the fight against heart disease, in ways big and small.
The medical community is on the front lines, of course, treating sick patients, helping others recover and -- equally importantly -- educating and encouraging others how to avoid the dangerous tentacles of the No. 1 killer of Americans.
Researchers are hard at work seeking answers. They are conceiving and refining tests that can help with diagnosis, and the medicines and equipment that can help with treatment and prevention.
Americans from other fields contribute, too, sometimes in the literal sense. Donations help fund research, and volunteers give their time to help with awareness and education campaigns.
There's still one more big piece of this puzzle. Our nation's lawmakers.
From city councils to statehouses, Congress to the Oval Office, our elected leaders set and maintain public health policies that govern the way we live. Their efforts in beating heart disease are evidenced in the strides made fighting tobacco use the last 50 years.
This month, the federally-designated American Heart Month, their support has been quite evident again. There's even a perfect illustration of it.
This photo was taken in Washington, D.C., on National Wear Red Day. I felt privileged to be among these 38 women -- senators and congresswomen, Democrats and Republicans, representing states from Florida to Washington, Texas to Minnesota -- as they helped spread the message that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined.
See bottom of story for participants' names
Another important ally in D.C. is Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Her department's mission, "is to help provide the building blocks that Americans need to live healthy, successful lives." I am privileged to turn the rest of this week's conversation over to her.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. It is responsible for 1 of every 4 deaths. That's more than half a million of our fathers and mothers, our grandparents, our siblings, our friends and neighbors.
Just about all of us have been touched by someone who has had a heart disease, a heart attack or a stroke.
This is particularly tragic because most heart attacks can be prevented with simple low-cost health care. Yet many people are not getting this basic care. As we observe American Heart Month in February, there are some key steps you and your loved ones can take to protect against heart disease:
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Get regular exercise
- Don't smoke
- Know your risk factors
By doing these things, you can dramatically reduce your risk of premature death or disability due to heart disease. But far too many people who are at high risk for heart disease don't know it. For half of the men who die from a heart attack, the first symptom of heart disease is death.
That is why it is so important to know your ABCS. Ask your doctor if you should take an Aspirin daily, what your Blood pressure and Cholesterol should be, and if you Smoke, how you can get help to quit.
The Affordable Care Act is making it easier than ever before to take care of your heart. Most health plans now must cover life-saving preventive services like blood pressure screening, cholesterol checks, and help to quit smoking at no out-of-pocket costs to consumers. And under the law, people can no longer be denied coverage or charged more because of a pre-existing condition, like cardiovascular diseases or diabetes.
We are working to coordinate and strengthen heart disease prevention efforts across the nation through initiatives like Million Hearts, Healthy People 2020, and The Heart Truth. We are also working with such great partners as the American Heart Association and the Men's Health Network.
And thanks to the new health care law, millions of uninsured Americans are now able to get affordable, quality health insurance. The security of coverage that's there when you need it is critical in the fight against heart disease.
Join us in putting President Obama's State of the Union call for a Year of Action in 2014 to work in the fight against heart disease. The president called on every American who knows someone who is uninsured to help them get covered by March 31, when open enrollment in the Health Insurance Marketplace ends. You can enroll at HealthCare.gov, by phone at 1-800-318-2596, by mail, or through an insurer, agent, or broker. You can also find in-person help in your community at LocalHelp.HealthCare.gov.
About 9.6 million Americans have already signed up for private insurance or have signed up, renewed or learned they are eligible for Medicaid coverage. And they're now getting the checkups and care they need to help prevent a heart attack or stroke.
Of the 3.3 million people who've selected a Marketplace plan, 82 percent will receive a lowered premium. These are people like:
Aqualyn Laury, an Alexandria, Va., entrepreneur who had a stroke at 18 because of a tumor in her heart. Unable to get insurance on her own because of her pre-existing condition, Aqualyn said she was fortunate to get into an Affordable Care Act pre-existing condition coverage program before she suffered a heart attack in 2013. She has since enrolled in a private plan through the Marketplace and because she was eligible for lower costs to help pay her premium, she pays $250 a month.
Eddie Renner, a 39-year-old artist from Cheboygan, Mich., whose family has a history of heart disease, but he couldn't afford the blood workups necessary to monitor his health. He enrolled in a plan through the Marketplace and also was eligible for reduced costs. His premium is an incredible $2.04 a month, with a deductible of $175.
Ronald McLaney, a 62-year-old builder in Greenville, S.C., who had a heart attack while he and his wife were uninsured for seven years -- she lost her job and the insurance that covered them both. He's still trying to reimburse the doctor who saved his life. They now have insurance through the Marketplace and were eligible for lower costs to help pay the premium. Their premium is $245 a month, with a deductible of $1,000.
This American Heart Month, please consider what you and your loved ones can do to promote a heart-healthy lifestyle.
And remember: There's no better Valentine than a healthy heart!
Featured in picture: Starting from bottom left front row: Congresswomen Grace Meng (D-NY), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), AHA Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brown, Congresswomen Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM); second row: Congresswomen Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Susan Davis (D-CA), Candice Miller (R-MI), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), Robin L. Kelly (D-IL), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Betty McCollum (D-MN); third row: Congresswomen Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Renee Ellmers (R-NC); fourth row: Congresswomen Judy Chu (D-CA), Donna Edwards (D-ME), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); fifth row: Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Lois Frankel (D-FL); sixth row: Congresswomen Janice Hahn (D-CA), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Linda Sanchez (D-CA); last top row: Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Doris Matsui (D-CA).