WellPoint Encourages Those at Risk of Hypertension to ‘Know Their Numbers’
When it comes to high blood pressure, what seniors don’t know really can hurt them.
The prevalence and severity of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases markedly with age. About 27 percent of people 60 years old and younger have hypertension. That number increases more than twofold to 63 percent for those aged 60-79 years.[i] Yet, many people don’t know they have high blood pressure because it has no warning signs or symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).[ii]
Left unchecked, hypertension can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney disease. Hence, high blood pressure should be taken seriously by everyone and particularly seniors. The Million Hearts Campaign, which counts America’s Health Insurance Plans among its partners, says hypertension affects 68 million adults in the United States, contributes to one out of every seven deaths and accounts for about $74 billion in health care services[iii]. That’s why hypertension is sometimes known as “the silent killer.”
WellPoint supports efforts to raise awareness of hypertension and to increase actions that lead to greater control, heading off more serious consequences.
“Although it takes patience and perseverance, most people can gain control of their high blood pressure over time by working closely with their primary care physician,” said Dr. Catherine MacLean, vice president of clinical quality for WellPoint. “The biggest danger with hypertension is simply ignoring it.”
MacLean said the first step toward controlling hypertension is for people to “know their numbers.” Medicare members, including those with WellPoint’s affiliated Medicare Advantage (MA) plans, can get their blood pressure checked at no cost during their “Welcome to Medicare” exam or “Annual Wellness Visit.” Additionally, physicians may want their patients to take their blood pressure between doctor’s visits and record it. This can be done at home, at a grocery store or at the pharmacy.
Blood pressure is measured with a cuff using two numbers. The first, or top (systolic), number represents the pressure in blood vessels as the heart beats. The second, or bottom (diastolic), number represents the pressure in the vessels as the heart rests between beats. Readings greater than 120 over 80 are considered to be pre-hypertensive, while readings greater than 140 over 90 are considered to be hypertensive.
Once someone is diagnosed with pre-hypertension or hypertension, there are a number of actions they can take lower their blood pressure. Medicare or MA plans cover many of these measures (although premiums, copayments and coinsurance may apply) including the following:
Eat right. A healthy diet, including avoidance of salt, alcohol and caffeine, can result in modest improvements in blood pressure. Less than 25 percent of Americans consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily. People with high blood pressure should eat more fruits and vegetables and fewer sodium-laden processed foods. Nutrition counseling from a registered dietician is available through Medicare for those with hypertension and certain related conditions, including kidney disease and diabetes.
Get exercise. According to the CDC, as many as 34 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 are inactive, meaning they engage in no leisure-time physical activity. Thankfully, it’s never too late to get started. Many MA plans, including most of the WellPoint affiliated health plans, include gym memberships with senior-specific activities at no extra cost.
Stop smoking. Smoking injures blood vessels, speeds up hardening of the arteries and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the CDC. People who smoke can take advantage of smoking cessation programs offered through Medicare to help them quit.
Take medication. More than half of those with hypertension lack control of it. Anti-hypertension drugs can help, including diuretics, beta blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel blockers and others. However, it may take time to find the right drug, or combination of drugs, and dosage. Medicare Part D covers many anti-hypertension drugs. MA members should check their formulary for details.
Once someone finds the right drug therapy, it is important for them to stick to it. Unfortunately, many people with hypertension do not follow their drug treatment plan for a variety of reasons, including simple forgetfulness. WellPoint affiliated health plans sent pillboxes at no extra cost to certain MA members to help them stay organized.
Finally, when adjusting to a new medication, members might want to eliminate any risk of falls from their homes. Some MA plans include a fall prevention program to help improve balance through muscle strengthening and removing hazards from the home.
“Getting on the right medication, remembering to take it regularly, and adapting to new diet and exercise routines can be challenging,” MacLean said. “But the benefits of getting high blood pressure under control are well worth it.”
This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for advice about treatments that may affect your health. The benefit information provided is a brief summary, not a complete description of benefits. For more information, contact the plan. Benefits, formulary and/or co-payments/co-insurance may change on Jan. 1 of each year. Limitations, co-payments, and restrictions may apply.
About WellPoint, Inc.
At WellPoint, we believe there is an important connection between our members’ health and well-being—and the value we bring our customers and shareholders. So each day we work to improve the health of our members and their communities. And, we can make a real difference since we have nearly 36 million people in our affiliated health plans, and nearly 68 million people served through our subsidiaries. As an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, WellPoint serves members as the Blue Cross licensee for California; and as the Blue Cross and Blue Shield licensee for Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area), Nevada, New Hampshire, New York (as the Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in 10 New York City metropolitan and surrounding counties and as the Blue Cross or Blue Cross Blue Shield licensee in selected upstate counties only), Ohio, Virginia (excluding the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.), and Wisconsin. In a majority of these service areas, WellPoint’s plans do business as Anthem Blue Cross, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, or Empire Blue Cross (in the New York service areas). We also serve customers in several additional states through our Amerigroup subsidiary and in certain markets through our CareMore subsidiary. Our 1-800 CONTACTS, Inc. subsidiary offers customers online sales of contact lenses, eyeglasses and other ocular products. Additional information about WellPoint is available at www.wellpoint.com.
[i] Lloyd-Jones DM, Evans JC, Levy D. Hypertension in adults across the age spectrum: current outcomes and control in the community. JAMA. 2005;294:466-472