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6 Ways Medicare Helps With an Aging Heart

Stethoscope on patient's chest

Caring for your heart is vital to lead a healthy, independent life. Some of the most common chronic conditions for older adults are ones that affect your cardiovascular system (which consists of the heart and blood vessels) like high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart failure. In fact, heart disease is the top cause of death for people in the U.S., killing one person every 33 seconds. 

Survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that your risks for coronary heart disease — the primary cause of heart attacks — or stroke become much worse once you’re over 65: 

  • Just over 7% of the people surveyed who were between 45 and 64 years old reported having coronary heart disease. Meanwhile, 17% of those 65 or older had been diagnosed. 
  • Among people who were 45 to 64 years old, 3.7% had gone through a stroke. Among people 65 or older, 7.6% reported that a healthcare provider said they’d had a stroke. 

Health insurance can help you access the services and resources you need for a heart-conscious lifestyle. If you receive coverage through the federally administered Original Medicare program or a Medicare Advantage plan from a private insurance carrier, you should understand how your benefits can help keep your heart functioning at its best. 

1. Screening for Cardiovascular Disease 

Healthcare providers use routine blood tests to spot risk factors for cardiovascular problems. For example, the CDC warns that increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often called “bad” cholesterol, may increase your danger of heart disease or stroke. Blood tests that show a combination of too much LDL, too little “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL), and too many triglycerides (fats that are used for energy) may be a sign of various health issues, including the potential for a heart attack. 

Medicare covers cardiovascular screening blood tests every five years to check your levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and a range of other compounds called lipids. If you’re enrolled in Medicare Part B, the part of Original Medicare that provides medical insurance, these tests cost you nothing out of pocket as long as you see a doctor who accepts assignment. Accepting assignment means they take the Medicare-recommended amount as full payment for their services.  

Medicare Advantage plans are required to match Original Medicare’s coverage, including for preventive care like cardiovascular screenings. However, to get the most out of your benefits, you will need to see doctors who are in your plan’s provider network. 

2. Help To Address Risk Factors 

Once per year, Medicare will pay the full cost of a visit to a healthcare provider (if they accept assignment) for cardiovascular behavioral therapy to lower your risk of heart problems. They may check your blood pressure and discuss whether you should start taking a low-dose aspirin, which can prevent blood clots in your arteries and help to avoid a heart attack or stroke. 

These visits are an opportunity to develop a plan for a healthier lifestyle that could involve changes like: 

  • Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet 
  • Controlling portion size when you eat 
  • Sleeping more and getting better quality rest 
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quitting smoking or drinking 

3. Advice and Support for People With Heart Conditions 

Medicare Part B or a Medicare Advantage plan covers cardiac rehabilitation for people living with heart problems. These programs may include exercises and a range of services to lower your risks for future heart problems like patient education, nutritional counseling, and support to quit smoking 

You could be eligible to go through this program at a doctor’s office or a hospital’s outpatient department if you: 

  • Had a heart attack in the past year 
  • Have chest pains (a condition called angina) 
  • Have been diagnosed with chronic heart failure 
  • Received a surgery such as a coronary artery bypass, a heart valve repair or replacement, or a heart transplant 
  • Went through a non-surgical procedure like a coronary angioplasty (which opens a blocked artery) or the placement of coronary stent (a device to keep an artery open). 

4. Coverage for Prescription Medications 

Many patients are prescribed drugs to manage their cardiovascular health. Some of the types of medication that are used most include: 

  • Anticoagulants to prevent blood clots 
  • ACE inhibitors to lower blood pressure 
  • Beta blockers to reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart attack for people who have already had one 
  • Statins to lower cholesterol 
  • Vasodilators to reduce chest pain 

Original Medicare doesn’t provide coverage for prescription drugs. To get help with these costs, you’ll need to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan from a private insurance carrier. 

Many Medicare Advantage plans do include Part D prescription drug coverage. Whether you choose a standalone Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage prescription drug plan, you should be aware that each of your options will have its own coverage details and costs. Talk to a licensed insurance agent about what you can expect to pay for a regular supply of any medications you need for your cardiovascular health when selecting a plan. 

5. Gym Memberships and Fitness Resources 

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your cardiovascular health. According to the National Institutes of Health, a routine of moderate or more intense physical activity strengthens your heart muscle and lowers your risk of a heart attack. Exercise makes you less likely to develop coronary heart disease by bringing down your blood pressure and trigylceride levels while promoting more HDL (“good” cholesterol). 

Original Medicare doesn’t help with gym memberships, but some Medicare Advantage plans do provide access to workout facilities as well as online fitness classes you can take from home. Certain Medicare Supplement plans, which help with a variety of out-of-pocket costs not covered by Original Medicare, offer similar fitness benefits. 

6. Help To Buy Nutritious Foods 

Along with physical activity, what you choose to eat can make a big difference in your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends a diet that includes: 

  • Many different fruits and vegetables 
  • Whole grains 
  • Sources of protein like nuts, fish, and low-fat or nonfat dairy 
  • Cooking oils with low levels of saturated fat and no trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils 
  • Few added sugars 
  • Little salt 
  • Minimal processed foods 
  • Limited or no alcohol 

One problem that a lot of us have with sticking to a heart-conscious diet is that less healthy food is often cheaper. If you’re living with a diagnosed chronic condition, you may be eligible for a chronic condition special needs plan (C-SNP) that could help you make better choices. C-SNPs are Medicare Advantage plans created for people with specific medical needs, and some offer benefits designed to manage issues like a chronic heart condition. 

Certain C-SNPs offer support for purchasing nutritious food and over-the-counter items. Members usually access these funds through a prepaid debit card or a flex card. Plan availability depends on where you live, and the benefit details vary based on the plan you select. 

Caring for your heart is a lifelong commitment. By enrolling in the health insurance that fits your needs, you get coverage and resources that help to prevent some of the most common and dangerous chronic conditions. 

About GoHealth 

GoHealth is a leading health insurance marketplace and Medicare-focused digital health company. Enrolling in a health insurance plan can be confusing for customers, and the seemingly small differences between plans can lead to significant out-of-pocket costs or lack of access to critical medicines and even providers. GoHealth combines cutting-edge technology, data science, and deep industry expertise to build trusted relationships with consumers and match them with the healthcare policy and carrier that is right for them. Since its inception, GoHealth has enrolled millions of people in Medicare plans and individual and family plans. For more information, visit GoHealth.com.