Fifty-one Australians a day die from heart disease but Health Minister Greg Hunt is stalling on funding a heart health check that could save thousands of lives in the next five years.
Mr Hunt has responded to a campaign by News Corp Australia and the Heart Foundation to have Medicare fund a $ 170 million heart health check for all Australians by referring it to an independent committee.
The minister has asked the Heart Foundation to apply to the Medicare Services Advisory Committee to have the idea assessed — a process that could take at least 12 months.
“If the independent experts at the MSAC find that there is a need for this item, this Government will guarantee funding it,” a spokeswoman for the minister said.
Heart Foundation CEO John Kelly said the foundation is happy to resubmit but noted that last time it applied to MSAC it took the committee two years to reach a decision.
“We need this funded urgently and we want the minister to ask the chair of the Medicare Services Advisory Committee for an urgent report within a month,” he said.
The stalling tactic comes as public support for a heart check surges, with more than 117,000 Australians racing to do an online check of their risk of having a heart attack after MASTHEAD and the foundation launched a campaign to raise awareness of heart disease.
Giving further emphasis to the issue, the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute will today launch a report showing 4.2 million Australians are living with a cardiovascular condition, with one million hospitalisations a year connected to the disease. It is Australia’s leading cause of death.
Heart Foundation experts have welcomed the surge in visits to its online Heart Age Calculator.
“We launched this campaign to reverse Australians’ dangerous complacency about heart disease. The fact that so many people are doing the calculator shows that Australians are responding to our call,” Professor Kelly said.
The Heart Age calculator helps people understand their risk of a heart attack and stroke by determining their “heart age” — which may not be the same as their actual age.
It provides consumers with an idea of whether they might be at risk, but it is important to know that the calculator is not a clinical tool. It does not replace the need to see your doctor for a heart health check.
A check by a GP involves blood tests, talking about your family history, checking your blood pressure and discussing your lifestyle and general wellbeing.
This information helps your doctor determine whether you are at high, medium or low risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years if you are left unmanaged.
This type of check is currently not funded by Medicare.
The report form the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute reveals Australians who have had a heart attack are twice as likely to die prematurely compared to the general population.
Within 12 months, one in ten heart attack survivors will have another heart attack.
This is why the MASTHEAD and the Foundation are also demanding action governments to improve rehabilitation after a heart attack to prevent these deaths and expensive repeat hospitalisations.
Only one in three Australians who have had a heart attack get access to rehabilitation care which helps them get into a healthy diet and exercise program and get education about preventing future heart attacks.
The Baker IDI report shows only 50 per cent of Australian heart patients receive guideline-based care after a heart attack or stroke.
Many patients also fail to adhere to treatment and lifestyle advice.
“Improving management of the disease will help to reduce the thousands of preventable deaths from secondary events in Australia every year,” Professor Tom Marwick, Director of the Baker Institute said.