Focus on heart health this month and beyond

February is American Heart Month, which makes this a good time to talk about heart health and the Affordable Care Act. Right now, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Every year, it takes the lives of more than half a million Americans. Although many people think of heart disease as a man’s problem, women can and do get heart disease. This epidemic kills more women than diabetes, Alzheimer’s and lung cancer combined. In the United States, a woman suffers a heart attack every 90 seconds.

The good news is that most of the risk factors for heart disease – including obesity, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking – are preventable and controllable. Now, because of the health-care law, millions of Americans with private plans have access to life-saving preventive services, such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, smoking cessation and obesity counseling, without paying a penny out-of-pocket.

The Department of Health and Human Services is also working with public and private partners to help each American take care of his or her heart and raise awareness of heart disease through our various research efforts and programs. Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Having the security of quality, affordable health insurance is also vital in the fight against heart disease. In less than a year, it will be illegal for insurance companies to deny any American coverage because of a pre-existing condition, such as heart disease.

And starting Oct. 1, uninsured and underinsured Americans will be able to shop for affordable health insurance through their state’s health-insurance marketplace where you can compare health insurance plans based on price, quality, benefits and other important features. If you need health insurance or know someone who does, you can visit to find insurance options and sign up for updates.

February is not just a time to think of those close to your heart. It is also a time to take care of your heart.

Marguerite Salazar, regional director, Region VIII, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services