The countdown is on to the possible demise of one of Australia's most successful life-saving health programs which had helped hundreds of thousands of older people.
The Heart Health Checks program will expire on June 30 with the Federal government yet to announce a continuance of funding.
The Heart Foundation wants the program backed in the 2023/24 Budget with Foundation chief executive David Lloyd urging the government not to take Australia backwards in its fight against cardiovascular disease - the nation's number one killer.
"Prevention is still the best cure - not only for the heart health of Australians but now also for the nation's overwhelmed healthcare system," Mr Lloyd said.
Heart Health Checks were introduced to the Medicare Benefits Scheme as temporary items in 2019. Australians took up them up in record numbers in 2022 as they emerged from pandemic restrictions - more than 420,000 Australians have developed heart disease prevention plans with the support of their GPs.
The Heart Heath Check is offered free in GP practices to people 45 and over (30 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).
It is estimated 1.4 million Australians have a high chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years with many unaware of the risk.
Making Heart Health Checks a permanent item on the MBS is now the Foundation's highest priority of three initiatives it has proposed to the government for inclusion in the 2023/24 Federal Budget.
"More people live with cardiovascular disease than die from it - now the challenge is to shift the nation's mindset to one that helps people avoid it altogether, to prevent the strain on our hospital and primary care system and improve the overall health and wellbeing of Australians, said Mr Lloyd.
The Heart Foundation's 2023/24 Federal Budget proposals include making Heart Health Checks permanent at a cost of $11.5 million per year; implementing new cardiovascular risk guidelines; and addressing inequity and improving outcomes in women's heart healthcare.
Professor Stephen Nicholls, director of the Victorian Heart Institute, Monash University and the Victorian Heart Hospital said screening like heart checks had flow on effects in the long term, as disease prevention and early detection came with obvious economic benefits and relieved the burden on the health care system.
"Heart disease is still Australia's biggest killer; we need to be proactive in screening and preventing disease before it starts, and accessible heart health checks play a big role in that."
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