No one plans to have a heart attack, stroke or other major medical emergency. But if you do, having insurance allows you to get the care you need, while protecting you and your family financially. It can also help you maintain your health or manage risk factors so that they don’t lead to a major medical event.

In the U.S., there are 48.6 million people who do not have health insurance. More than seven million of them are living with cardiovascular diseases.

If you have heart disease, health insurance allows you to get needed care, have shorter hospital stays and have better health compared to people without insurance. Insured people are also more likely to take their medications properly to control risk factors and call 911 for heart attack or stroke symptoms.

If you don’t have heart disease or stroke, health insurance makes primary care and preventive services more accessible, which can help you stay healthy. It can also help you get your risk factors detected and treated sooner by covering needed lab tests and visits to specialists.

Conversely, uninsured people with cardiovascular disease have higher death rates and worse blood pressure control. Their risk of death from stroke is up to 56 percent higher than those who are insured. They’re also less likely to get regular check-ups or access life-saving medications. 

“When the uninsured gain access to coverage, they’ll be less reliant on emergency department care, which is the most expensive type of care,” said Stephanie Mohl, senior government relations advisor for the American Heart Association. “Among providers alone, hospitals nationwide lose about $35 billion each year by providing unreimbursed care to the uninsured. According to some estimates, individuals with insurance pay up to $1,100 more per year through higher premiums and taxes because of the cost of uncompensated care that is passed along.”

In some states, hospital bills for having a heart attack or stroke can reach $100,000. That kind of  sticker shock is what makes heart disease and stroke leading causes of medical bankruptcy, even for people who had some health insurance at the time. Having adequate, comprehensive health coverage can help prevent the financial nightmare posed by unexpected and costly medical treatment.

If you’re uninsured or don’t feel like your health insurance is adequate or affordable, you can start shopping for health insurance plans on Oct. 1 at the new Health Insurance Marketplace created under the health care law. Open enrollment lasts until March 31.

You also can find out through the Marketplace if you’re eligible for a new tax credit to help make your premiums more affordable.

All health insurance plans through the Marketplace must cover care such as: doctor’s visits, prescription drugs, lab tests, emergency care, hospitalization, rehabilitation services, preventive services, maternity and newborn care, pediatric care and mental health and substance abuse care.

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