A new study released today by the American Heart Association reveals that more than 6 million adults at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 1.3 million who have suffered from heart disease, hypertension or stroke gained health insurance between 2013 and 2014, the first year coverage was available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“In just its first year of enrollment, the Affordable Care Act made it possible for millions of Americans fighting cardiovascular diseases to focus on improving their health, instead of worrying about whether they can obtain or afford the quality care they deserve,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association. 

The association commissioned the study, conducted by the Center for Health Policy Research in Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University. The goal was to assess the impact of expanded access to health insurance under the ACA on uninsured adults who were at risk of, or who had experienced CVD. Researchers examined changes at the national level between 2013, the year before the ACA’s coverage expansion, and 2014, when key insurance reforms took effect. Some key highlights from the study: 

  • The number of uninsured adults 18-64 with a CVD risk factor (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetic, overweight or smoker) fell by more than 20 percent or 6.2 million, from 31 million in 2013 to 24.8 million in 2014 or from 21.4 percent of those with a risk factor to 17.0 percent.
  • The decreases in the number of uninsured adults from 2013 to 2014 by risk factors were:
  • Hypertension – 4.6 million uninsured (14.9 percent of those with high blood pressure) to 3.7 million (11.6 percent)
  • Cholesterol – 4 million uninsured (12.5 percent of those with high cholesterol) to 2.4 million (8.2 percent)
  • Overweight or obese – 25.8 million uninsured (20.8 percent of those overweight) to 20.7 million (16.5 percent)
  • Current smokers – 11.5 million uninsured (30.1 percent of smokers) to 8.8 million (24.5 percent)
  • Current diabetes – 1.9 million uninsured (15.8 percent of diabetics) to 1.2 million (10.4 percent)

In addition, the number of uninsured adults who have ever suffered from heart disease, stroke or hypertension dropped 1.3 million, from 8.2 million in 2013 (16.2 percent of those with these conditions) to 6.9 million (12.9 percent) in 2014.

“For Americans who are already struggling with the challenges of cardiovascular diseases, being able to obtain access to desperately needed specialized care without suffering financial catastrophe must be a wonderful relief,” Brown said.

Insurance gains were also made across gender and race/ethnicity lines. The percentage of both men and women with CVD risk who were uninsured was reduced, from 22.3 to 18.1 percent and 20.5 to 15.8 percent, respectively. While white, African-American and Hispanic adults all saw improvements in their uninsured populations, African-Americans saw the largest changes.

Researchers point out in the study that the ACA has enabled a significant number of Americans to take advantage of one of the most important weapons against heart disease and stroke – prevention. Patients insured under the act can obtain blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, smoking cessation services, behavioral counseling for obesity, as well as improved access to primary care and medications needed to help manage their diseases and reduce their risks.

“These study findings are very promising and we hope this tremendous progress continues so that we can achieve the association’s 2020 goal to improve the cardiovascular health of our nation,” said Brown. 

Although the reductions in the number of uninsured are significant, the study also highlights that there are still many millions of Americans with CVD or at risk for CVD who remain uninsured. The association encourages Americans who are uninsured to explore their options and sign up for coverage for 2016 by the Jan. 31 deadline. Moreover, the association remains committed to advocating for Medicaid expansion and other efforts to make insurance coverage more affordable and accessible.