Heart disease remains the #1 cause of death in the United States and creates an enormous burden for people, communities, and healthcare providers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, which is 1 in every 4 deaths (Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, 2020).
On top of heart disease being a leading cause of death in the US, the new and ever-present, continuous threat of COVID-19 makes taking cardiovascular health seriously vital. Being exposed to COVID-19 and not having one’s cardiovascular health in good condition, can lead to a severe, even fatal outcome.
Medicare and Medicaid members with poor cardiovascular health or underlying heart conditions are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. February is American Heart Month and is a good reminder for health care organizations to bring added attention to their members' heart health and find ways to encourage them to engage in healthy activities.
When members are incentivized through health and wellness programs to engage in activities that improve cardiovascular health, Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) reduce their risk of paying large medical bills down the line and are rewarded by lowering costs for patients, providers, and taxpayers. According to The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), “Provider-grown organizations have the potential to generate significant savings for the Medicare trust fund and allow themselves to share in the savings. CMS will also use its authority under the Innovation Center to develop different types of payment systems that achieve similar outcomes." With this being said, it is evident that by having Medicare and Medicaid patients educated on cardiovascular health and incentivized to take preventative measures, ACO’s will benefit financially.
COVID-19 Raises Danger to Cardiovascular Health
COVID-19 makes it more important than in any previous year to take heart health seriously. According to Newsroom, “experts predict the global burden of cardiovascular disease will grow exponentially over the next few years as the long-term effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic evolve.” (Newsroom, 2021) In addition to the virus itself being a threat to heart conditions, the lifestyle changes people have adopted due to COVID-19 also play a major role in declining heart health. “Quarantine has led to unhealthy eating habits, increased consumption of alcohol, lack of physical activity and the mental toll of quarantine isolation and even fear of contracting the virus all can adversely impact a person’s risk for cardiovascular health.” (Salim S. Virani, M.D., Ph.D., chair of cardiology and cardiovascular research at Baylor College of Medicine).
Medicare and Medicaid Members’ Heart Health Vulnerabilities
Medicare members fall into the 65+ age bracket, which makes them more vulnerable to heart disease and at higher risk of severe illness from the covid virus. For this reason, it is critical that they take their cardiovascular health seriously and are encouraged by their health care providers to maintain a healthy lifestyle. By keeping their cardiovascular health and immune systems strong, seniors will be better equipped to fight off the virus thereby lowering provider costs.
Medicaid members are affected by social determinants of health and are at a higher risk of cardiovascular health vulnerabilities due to a number of factors such as air quality, living conditions, and food insecurity. For example, many Medicaid members do not have access to fresh or healthy foods and often resort to eating less nutritious, greasy meals from fast-food restaurants. Over time, a poor diet can lead to many severe health issues especially with one’s heart; it is critical to educate and guide your Medicaid members on ways they can improve their eating habits that will support their overall health.
How to Encourage Members to Take Care of their Cardiovascular Health
Medicare and Medicaid members commonly need extra encouragement and incentives to stay on track and attend their medical visits. Medicare members struggle to keep up with their appointments due to age, transportation, or fear of COVID-19. On the other hand, Medicaid members have trouble with appointment attendance due to lack of access to, or inability to pay for transportation, or they are unable to take time off from work, which is often intense service or industrial labor.
An effective way to increase member appointment attendance and incorporate healthy lifestyle changes is by using non-cash incentives, such as gift cards. By incentivizing and rewarding members with gift cards, it gives them clear motivation to follow through on their medical appointments and health goals.
Gift cards make a great member incentive that is nearly-effortless to personalize for your members’ preferences, which provides a positive and memorable experience.
Preventative Method 1: Simple Exercise
Exercise is vital for heart health. Exercise strengthens the muscle structure of the body, including the heart, which becomes more efficient and better able to pump blood. Encouraging members to incorporate easy movement into their daily lives such as a 10-minute regimen of stretching, short neighborhood walks, or anything that gets the body moving makes a huge difference. Get your members excited about taking care of their physical health by offering them rewards with brands that support them in their fitness regime. Some gift card options that support physical exercise include Athleta, lululemon, Adidas, Under Armour, REI, Footlocker, and L.L. Bean, among others.
Preventative Method 2: Eating Healthy
An effective way to help members improve their heart health is through diet. By encouraging members to start eating one extra fruit or vegetable a day (either fresh or frozen), members can lower their risk of heart disease and stroke. Cooking at home is another great way to incorporate more nutrients into members’ diets. Incentivize members with Home Chef gift cards that allow them to get fresh ingredients for healthy meals delivered right to their door; gift Cards from Target to be used for grocery pick-up orders for fresh fruits and vegetables; or, gift cards for DoorDash, GrubHub, or UberEats that allow them to order delivery from healthy restaurants safely to their home.
Preventative Method 3: Relieve Stress
Studies suggest that high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure--all common risk factors for heart disease (University of Rochester Medical Center). Whether it’s relaxing with a good book, getting a full night of sleep, taking vitamins, spa treatments, exercise, practicing meditation, or even lighting candles, members can relieve stress from their lives and reduce their likelihood of developing heart disease. Some popular Gift card brands that can provide stress relief include CVS, Spotify, Google Play, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Spa Week/Spa Finder, Bath & Body Works, and Vitamin Shoppe.
When hospitals, physicians and healthcare providers incentivize members to take care of their cardiovascular health through exercise, diet, and stress relief, they can impact members' heart health as well as benefit themselves financially. Using gift card brands that support these healthy habits are an effective incentive to achieve this outcome. By empowering members to take their heart health seriously, Healthcare providers improve not only their members’ lives but are rewarded by lowering costs for patients, providers, and taxpayers.
In celebration of American Heart Month, you can make a date with your heart and get a no-cost heart health screening at a MinuteClinic® location during select Thursdays in February (February 6, February 13, and February 20).
Register for your free account on Engage2 Reward™ today for access to over 300 gift card brands that can be delivered at the click of a button to support your Medicare and Medicaid members’ health!