More than 16,000 Australians have so far signed a petition to save the Medicare funded Heart Health Check from extinction as the nation continues to wait for the Australian Government to extend funding for the lifesaving Check beyond 30 June.
Hundreds more have written to their local MPs concerned that from 1 July any Australian turning 45 (or 30 if First Nations) will miss out on the Medicare-subsidised Heart Health Check, which is Australia’s best tool to identify and manage an individual’s risk of heart attack or stroke.
A lack of funding for the item will see it vanish entirely, unravelling decades of hard work by the Heart Foundation and the broader health sector to create a healthier Australia.
Heart disease is a silent killer and the nation’s leading cause of death. The first symptom is often a heart attack, therefore early detection and prevention is key.
The unchecked consequences can be painful and lifechanging
Queensland personal trainer Emma Wilson, 53, wishes she had access to a Heart Health Check prior to her heart attack in 2015.
“I was super fit and healthy and working in a gym when I had my heart attack and there were no early warning signs until it was too late,” Ms Wilson said.
“I now recommend to all friends and family and clients to go and get a Heart Health Check – you can’t assume like me that just being fit and healthy means you aren’t at risk.
“My heart attack was painful to experience and hard to recover from. It’s lifechanging and affects a whole family not just the individual. Surely a simple Check is easier than the alternative.”
Where to from here?
The groundswell of public support and absence of a commitment from Government have buoyed the Heart Foundation to ramp up its advocacy efforts leading into Heart Week (1st to 7th May) through meetings with members of parliament and an awareness campaign featuring stories from Australians whose lives have been impacted by heart disease.
How to help
The Heart Foundation has opened a petition which people can sign: https://campaign.heartfoundation.org.au/save-heart-checks
From the petition, Australians can contact their local MP to ask for support, or share with family and friends for them to sign.
- The Medicare Heart Health Check was introduced in April 2019 as temporary items 699 and 177 on the Medicare Benefits Schedule
- According to MBS data, more than 440,000 Australians have seen their GP for a Check over the four years, likely to surpass the original 450,000 target set at the time in 2019
- This incredible uptake has occurred despite interruptions to routine check-ups during the pandemic.
- These heart specific items allow for a strong, clear call to action for people who feel healthy but are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease to see their GP. Remember, heart disease is a silent killer and the first sign is often a heart attack by which time it is too late to prevent heart disease.
- These heart specific items also help the heart sector and policy makers to better understand the impact of specific diseases on our healthcare system and therefore help to inform and support future policy.
- Heart disease is a silent and progressive killer, and the nation's leading cause of death. It is complex in that no single risk factor can tell a person their true risk. The Heart Health Check measures blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, looks at family history, diet and exercise, to then allow the GP to use a special calculator to determine an individual's risk of a heart attack or stroke within five years.
- The GP and patient then work to develop a tailored prevention plan.
- The Department of Health and Aged Care is in the process of reviewing the items but a report is not due until later this year, meaning Australia is at risk of having a significant and life-threatrening gap in cardiovascular risk prevention if the item is not renewed at a cost of $11.5 million in the 2023/24 Federal Budget
- No reason has been given for the lack of response and clarity to the heart sector.
- This has led to the sector, including the Heart Foundation, raising the matter in the public interest, as the loss of the item puts in jeopardy the integrity of new Cardiovascular Risk Prevention Guideline to be launched in June, and the much-needed ongoing data that would help inform a future National Screening Program for Cardiovascular disease.