Heart patients who receive Medicare are now finding that they have a whole new program that can keep them healthier and happier in the long run. Thanks to the realization that preventative medicine is far less expensive than curative, Medicare has started paying for the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease. The program focuses on nutrition (a vegetarian diet), meditation (for stress release) and regular exercise, (with an emphasis on gentle yoga.) The program was awarded an official designation as an intensive cardiac rehab program in 2010 and the first patients were signed into the program the following year.
Ornish and a number of peer reviewed studies have proven that the program will reverse many forms of heart disease, currently the number one killer of both men and women in the United States as well as those around the world. Medicare will pay for seventy two, one hour sessions for each patients at a cost of roughly $70. In addition to the yoga and dietary guidelines, the program also includes patient led discussion groups and other forms of support. The more positive the changes are, the more likely they will become permanent habits for these patients. Other programs that do not make people feel better about themselves will fail because ultimately the patient will quit following the guidelines that are set out for them.
Traditional forms of cardiac rehabilitation began in the late '50's but was not covered by Medicare until 1982. Even then, the programs were usually focused heavily on exercise but did little else about the mental well being of the patient. Ornish, who started experimenting with parts of his program in the 1970's, was curious to see if certain factors that were being overlooked by other programs could make a major difference. Lowered stress levels, especially when the patient was able to make social connections with others showed great improvements in overall health over those who were staying more isolated.
In 1997, Highmark Health Insurance Company became the first insurance company to pay for the Dean Ornish program. To date, only three are paying for it for their customers, all three in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Ornish is confident that more and more private health insurance companies will because they usually do follow suit with what Medicare is covering.
Critics of the program are worried that tax dollars are being spent on yoga and meditation which may lead to other forms of alternative care.
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