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Have a Heart: “Screen Us Where We Are!” | Commentary

Every American woman needs and deserves the opportunity for an early warning when she’s at risk for heart disease.

Unfortunately, far too many women in the U.S. are not receiving basic, preventive screening and counseling for heart disease, as well as the necessary information and support to help maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle. It’s time we bring these screenings to the places women go for basic medical care, from their OB/GYN to community health centers to pharmacy-based clinics.

Recognizing this problem, Sister to Sister: The Women’s Heart Health Foundation has taken heart-health screening to over 100,000 women. And they want to do more. This year, Sister to Sister will launch a new national campaign to “Screen Us Where We Are!” The organization is working to ensure that every woman gets a screening for heart disease wherever she goes for her primary care needs.

Many women rely on their OB/GYN for primary care, yet may not be discussing heart disease at their annual visit. Moreover, many women rely on other settings, such as a pharmacy-based clinic or community health center, which may also not provide the heart-health screenings and follow-up care that they need.

This paradigm is a major reason that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S. — causing one in four deaths each year. It’s unacceptable that heart disease has been the leading cause of death among men and women in this country for 93 years.

Fortunately, with early detection through proper screenings, and the incentives and support system for leading a healthier life, women can reduce their risk for heart disease by 82 percent.

Preventive testing for heart disease should be part of every woman’s visit to a health care practitioner who provides what amounts to primary care. Equally important are efforts to give women the information and support they need to maintain cardiovascular health. Public policymakers, health care professionals, insurers, and women’s health advocates should work together to make this possible.

This February marks the 11th year of Sister to Sister’s Capitol Hill screening days when everyone — men and women, senators and representatives, staffers and Capitol Hill Police alike — can receive a basic heart health screening to determine their level of risk for heart disease, and on-site professional counseling on how to lower that risk. This year’s Hill screening days will serve as a prelude to Sister to Sister’s “Screen Us Where We Are” Campaign.

By shifting the paradigm from a sick care system to a health care system, we can reduce the social and economic burden of women’s heart disease in this country.

Coronary disease kills almost 300,000 American women every year. For those women who survive heart attacks and strokes, there is untold suffering for the woman, her family, and for other caregivers.

In economic terms, heart disease and stroke among all Americans — women and men — costs more than $312.6 billion per-year in health care spending and lost productivity. Tearing down the barriers to early detection of heart disease among women is a moral imperative and a practical necessity.

Let’s work together — Democrats and Republicans, women and men, public and private sectors — to provide every American woman with the heart-health screening, information, and support that she needs.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is a Democrat from Maryland; Sen. Lisa Murkowski is a Republican from Alaska.

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