Heart Disease: What Are the Medical Costs?

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on March 01, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

Heart disease can affect more than your health. It can have an impact on your finances, too.

Here's a rundown of the costs of heart disease -- and some advice about how you can protect your wallet.

The High Cost of Heart Disease

In 2010, the cost of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. was about $444 billion. That includes costs for treatment of:

  • Heart conditions
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • High blood pressure

Treatment of these diseases accounts for $1 of every $6 spent on health care in the U.S.

Direct medical costs.After a heart attack, there are immediate charges, such as:

  • Ambulance
  • Diagnostic tests
  • Hospital charges
  • Possible surgery

Long-term maintenance of heart disease is also expensive. The costs include:

  • Drugs
  • Testing
  • Cardiologist appointments

Indirect costs. The largest indirect costs are lost productivity and income, though many people may be able to return to work a few months after having a heart attack.

Protecting Yourself From the Medical Costs of Heart Disease

Here's what you can do to protect yourself and your family from the financial costs of heart disease:

Look into cheaper medication. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if there are generic substitutes that might work as well but cost less. Many drug companies also offer assistance programs that will get you discounted medication.

Check your health insurance policy. "The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is make sure that you have adequate health insurance," says cardiologist Paul A. Heidenreich, MD, associate professor of medicine at Stanford University. Learn exactly what your policy covers.

The health care reform law will prevent insurers from declining coverage because of heart disease or other preexisting conditions. This will be enforced beginning in 2014.

Consider disability insurance. If you're healthy now, getting disability insurance could be a smart idea. It will replace some of your lost income if you ever become disabled by heart disease or another condition and can't work. Find more information on heart conditions that qualify for disability.

If you've already had a heart attack or heart disease diagnosis, getting disability insurance will be more difficult and cost more. Some policies could still be available but they might exclude any health problems related to heart disease.

Preventing and Treating Heart Disease

You can help cut your risk of heart disease -- and the medical costs that go with it -- by making lifestyle changes. Even if you've already developed heart disease, it's not too late. Lifestyle changes can still have a big impact, Heidenreich says.

Try these tips:

Get more physical activity. Regular exercise can help you:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improve cholesterol levels
  • Control weight
  • Lower your risk of heart disease

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That could be 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise -- such as brisk walking or biking -- five days a week.

Improve your diet. Eat more foods from vegetable sources and fewer foods from animal sources. It's a simple way of cutting back on the unhealthy fats in your diet.

Practice moderation, too. "It's not just what you eat, but how much," Heidenreich says. No matter how healthy a food might be, eating too much of it will make you gain weight.

Eat less salt. Sodium directly contributes to high blood pressure, which in turn leads to cardiovascular disease. A 2010 study estimates that if everyone in the U.S. cut the amount of salt they ate each day by 1/2 teaspoon it would prevent between 54,000 and 99,000 heart attacks each year.

Cutting out salt isn't easy. Start by gradually reducing the amount you add to food, Heidenreich says. Pay attention to sodium on nutritional labels, too. Packaged or processed foods account for 75% to 80% of the salt we take in.

Stress less. Researchers aren't sure how chronic stress contributes to heart disease, but the two are linked. Do what you can to limit tension in your life. Try stress-reduction techniques such as:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Control other risk factors. If you have risk factors for heart disease -- like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes -- work with your doctor to get them under control. If you smoke, you need to quit.

"Stopping smoking is the most important way of reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease," Heidenreich says.

Of course, many of us have seen -- and ignored -- the suggestions for heart disease lifestyle changes before. Yet they really can make a difference. Heidenreich estimates that if everyone made some sensible lifestyle changes, the number of heart attacks in the U.S. would drop by 63% in the next 30 years.

To protect your health -- and protect your finances -- making changes to how you live can be a good idea. That monthly fee for a gym membership might seem a little pricey for your budget. But compared to the $1 million that a lifetime of treatment for coronary artery disease could cost, it's a good deal.

Show Sources


Richard Frank, PhD, deputy assistant secretary for disability, aging, and long-term care policy, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington.

Carol Glazer, president, National Organization on Disability, New York.

Paul A. Heidenreich, MD, cardiologist, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Calif.; associate professor of medicine, Stanford University, Calif.

Barry Lundquist, president, Council for Disability Awareness, Portland, Maine.

Matt Tassey, past chairman, Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education.

American Heart Association: "Sodium," "Heart Attack and Angina Symptoms," "Physical Activity" "Stress and Heart disease," " Cardiovascular Disease Cost."

AARP: "When You're Losing Your Group Health Insurance."

Bibbins-Domingo, K. New England Journal of Medicine, February 18, 2010; vol 362: pp 590-599.

CDC: "Heart Disease," and "Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention."

Heidenreich, P. Circulation, March 1, 2011; vol 123.

Kaiser Family Foundation: "FAQ: What protections are there in the new health reform law for people with pre-existing conditions?"

Zaret, B. Yale University School of Medicine Heart Book, William Morrow & Co., 1992.

Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education: "Disability Insurance."

National Business Group on Health: "Heart Disease Among Women Adds Up."

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