Heart-Healthy Behavior Linked to Billions in Medicare Savings

Following the American Heart Association’s guidelines could save $41 billion for Medicare each year.

A new study suggests that adopting the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 heart healthy behaviors could save more than $41 billion in Medicare costs, and improve quality-of-life for beneficiaries.

Implementation of Life’s Simple 7 factors were linked to a lower risk of hospitalizations and cardiovascular disease-related outpatient visits. Those who did not adhere to the guidelines were seen to have significantly higher healthcare costs, according to a study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association.

These modifiable factors include cigarette smoking, physical activity, eating habits, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose levels.

To determine the financial impact of adherence to Life’s Simple 7, the investigators analyzed claims for 6262 Medicare beneficiaries who had no previous history of cardiovascular disease, according to the study.

Of all the included patients, only 6.4% adhered to 5 or more ideal factors. Individuals who were less likely to have high adherence were more likely to be female, black, unmarried, have an annual income lower than $20,000, or have less than a high school education.

Patients with high scores were less likely to receive inpatient or outpatient care related to any cause or specific to cardiovascular disease within the past year. Patients who adhered a majority of the factors spent an average of $5016 less for inpatient and outpatient care, compared with those who complied with the least number of factors, according to the study.

Further analysis indicated that participants with less than 5 factors were linked to more than half of annual inpatient costs, and one-third of outpatient claims.

If all Medicare beneficiaries adhered to 5 of the Life’s Simple 7 factors, the program would reduce costs more than $41.2 billion annually, according to the study.

"The actual cost for persons with fewer than 5 to 7 factors is almost certainly higher," said study lead author Kristal J. Aaron, DrPH, MSPH in a press release. "Skilled nursing facility, home health and hospice care, durable medical supplies, and medications were excluded in this analyses; thus, our study was limited to inpatient and outpatient visits for beneficiaries with Medicare fee-for-service in the 2014 calendar year, so this is probably a very conservative estimate."

The findings suggest that implementing these strategies would drastically reduce Medicare spending. They also have the opportunity to drive down spending in other settings, such as private health insurance or Medicaid.

Additionally, patients of all ages who are healthier and more active tend to have better quality-of-life, which is especially important for older adults with comorbidities.

Life’s Simple 7 factors "offer the potential for significant cost savings, not just better health outcomes and quality of life,” concluded Dr Aaron.