HHS Unveils Million Hearts Initiative at GW

September 14, 2011

Kathleen Sebelius speaks at podium

Kathleen Sebelius, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stressed the importance of preventative care.

By Jennifer Eder

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new public-private sector initiative at GW on Tuesday that aims to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.

The Million Hearts initiative will focus on blood pressure and cholesterol control, smoking cessation and improving aspirin use for people at risk.

“With two million heart attacks and strokes a year and 800,000 deaths, almost all of us have been touched with someone who has had heart disease, a heart attack or stroke. Heart disease takes the lives of far too many people in this country,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during an announcement at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium. “This is particularly tragic because we know that most heart attacks and strokes can be prevented with simple low-cost care that’s available to us today, but the sad truth is that too many people that need that preventative care don’t get it.”

The new initiative will also target a 20 percent reduction in sodium consumption and a 50 percent reduction in artificial trans fat.

“Each year thousands of people suffer from heart attacks that could be prevented,” said Lynn Goldman, dean of GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services, who introduced Ms. Sebelius. “This new public-private partnership will have a positive impact on the lives of so many people in this country.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas R. Frieden said fewer than half of Americans with high blood pressure are managing their condition, and only one-third of Americans with high cholesterol are receiving effective treatment.

“But 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 four million fewer Americans will smoke by 2017,” said Dr. Frieden.

Cardiovascular disease, which kills one out of every three Americans, is also a big drain on the economy. Heart disease costs $444 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity in the U.S.

“The treatment of heart disease and stroke account for about $1 of every $6 spent on health care in this country,” said Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “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.”

The initiative brings together HHS, CDC, CMS and partners including the American Heart Association, Walgreens, the YMCA, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Pharmacists’ Association and the American Pharmacists’ Association Foundation, the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations and the Alliance for Patient Medication Safety and the National Community Pharmacists Association.

As part of the initiative, CMS announced Tuesday it will be awarding $85 million in Medicaid incentives to 10 states for the development of programs to prevent chronic diseases. The CDC announced $40 million for chronic disease prevention programs within health departments across the country. And Walgreens will begin providing free blood pressure tests at its 26,000 locations across the U.S.

“By improving prevention and improving care, we have a goal to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years,” said Ms. Sebelius. “And that’s an ambitious goal, but it’s so very necessary.”