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New Orleans Expands Access to Healthy Foods

The City of New Orleans took another step towards reaching their goal of becoming a healthier city by the city’s 300th anniversary in 2018!

Recently, the City adopted policy that will expand healthy food and beverage choices on city property. Now, all food and beverages provided by the City through meetings, events, cafeterias, vending machines, etc. will meet national nutrition standards. That means more whole grains, lower sodium options and few sugary drinks that are Fit NOLA approved.

We applaud the City of New Orleans for making the healthy choice the easy choice. A special thank you to the American Heart Association’s Metro New Orleans Board for working with city leaders and local vendors to provide education and tools to implement the policy.

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Will you help influence scientific research?

We need to hear from consumers like you as the American Heart Association (AHA) and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) partner together on the future of research. Your experience could lead to the next research study to improve heart disease and stroke treatment.

As an advocate we’ve asked you to speak out for increased funding for medical research and you’ve answered by contacting lawmakers and sharing your personal stories as survivors, caregivers, and loved ones touched by heart and stroke disease. Now we invite you to share your experience, the decisions made in determining your or your loved one’s treatment plans and the factors that influenced those decisions. If we better understand your experience it can help guide the research that will lead to better care tailored to the specific needs of patients.

If you’ve had a heart attack, suffered a stroke, or you know a loved one who has, your unique understanding could help guide research to solve un-met care challenges faced by individuals like you and improve heart and stroke treatment.

Here are the details:

  • We are focused on un-met challenges faced by patients and caregivers like you. 
  • To join this challenge, you’ll be asked to provide a written submission of your first-hand experience after a heart disease or stroke event.
  • The story and description of the concerns you faced and the decisions you made should be personal and not a general case.
  • A team of scientific professionals and patient representatives with expertise in heart disease and stroke will review your story. Learning more about issues and concerns important to your decision-making can help them improve experiences and outcomes for patients in the future.
  • If your submission is chosen, you could win $1,000 and possibly help shape the future of cardiovascular research.
  • All submissions must be received by June 8, 2016.

Please take this important challenge and share your insights. Your story matters. Take the challenge today!

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Louisiana Medicaid Expansion Update

Guest Blogger: Ashley H. Bridges, Government Relations Director, Louisiana

Medicaid is the nation’s health insurance program for low-income Americans and is a vitally important part of our health care system. It covers many of the nation’s poorest and sickest patients and provided a critical financing mechanism for the health care services these individuals receive – including care related to cardiovascular disease (CVD). In fact, more than 16 million adults with Medicaid coverage (53 percent) have a history of CVD.[1]

Louisiana’s mandated Medicaid expansion would change eligibility requirements to extend health coverage to Louisianans aged 19-64 with household incomes less than $16,105 (individual) or $32,913 (family of four) who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. The majority of Louisianans who are eligible for expansion are workers – about 70 percent of individuals covered under this expansion are full-time employees earning at or around minimum wage. Many others are students as estimated by the 2014 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau).

Medicaid and CVD

Medicaid provides an important safety net for approximately one-fifth of all Americans with CVD. A recent analysis of 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data shows that 53% of all adults with Medicaid coverage – more than 16 million individuals – have a history of some type of cardiovascular illness. This grows to nearly 91 percent of all individuals with Medicaid coverage who are over age 65.

Individuals with Medicaid coverage are more likely to have cardiovascular conditions than those who have other types of health insurance coverage. For example, low-income adults over age 65 with

Medicaid coverage are more likely to have a history of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and stroke than seniors with only Medicare coverage. Similarly, individuals ages 18 to 64 with Medicaid coverage are more likely to have a history of high blood pressure, angina, heart attack, stroke or coronary heart disease than individuals with private health insurance. These findings are consistent with the overall trend that individuals with Medicaid are generally sicker and have poorer health status than other Americans, highlighting how critical this coverage is for low-income Americans with CVD.

A Win-Win for Louisiana

The Medicaid expansion is projected to bring an estimated $1.8 billion in increased economic activity to the state and create 15,600 new jobs and investing in a more productive workforce. The economic growth will generate approximately $120 million in new tax revenue per year.[2]

When people get insurance, they are more likely to have a regular primary care doctor and receive routine preventive care. The doctor-patient relationship is important. People with insurance are able to afford needed medications and can better control chronic conditions like diabetes. Women in states that are expanding Medicaid are more likely to get mammograms. Medicaid expansion saves lives.

Medicaid expansion is going to help fix the state deficit. The Department of Health and Hospitals estimates expanding Medicaid will save Louisiana in excess of $100 million in FY 2017 and almost $400 million over the next five years.

The American Heart Association understands the significant budget challenges faced by both federal and state governments. However, the organization supports efforts to expand Medicaid to low-income adults and opposes proposals that would reduce access to meaningful, affordable health care coverage for individuals with CVD. These include policies that cause states to scale back eligibility, cut benefits, or significantly increase cost sharing for Medicaid beneficiaries.


[1] Leighton Ku and Christine Ferguson. Medicaid Works: A Review of How Public Insurance Protects the Health and Finances of Low-income Families and Individuals. Forthcoming, First Focus and George Washington University.

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The Latest News on #SmokefreeEBR

On April 13, 2016, the East Baton Rouge Metro council failed to pass the proposed smoke-free ordinance, denying more than 3,000 workers the right to breathe clean air and leaving Baton Rouge as one of the largest cities in the country without a smoke-free ordinance that includes all workplaces and public places, including bars and casinos. The 2½-hour debate about the pros and cons of banning smoking at casinos and bars culminated with the Metro Council splitting the vote 6-6. Nearly 40 people addressed the council about the issue, imploring the council members to think about health, morality, fiscal responsibility and the business climate of the parish.

Metro Council members Chandler Loupe, Ryan Heck, Scott Wilson, Trae Welch, Buddy Amoroso and John Delgado voted against the ordinance. Voting in favor were its sponsors: Tara Wicker, Donna Collins-Lewis, Erika Green, Chauna Banks-Daniel, LaMont Cole and Joel Boé. None of the council members who voted against the ordinance explained during the meeting why they did so.

Smoke Free East Baton Rouge is a broad coalition of organizations, including the American Heart Association, spearheading the effort to protect all employees, musicians and entertainers in bars and casinos from the dangers of secondhand smoke. The group is committed to continuing support for smoke-free workplaces for everyone who lives in EBR.

Thank you to You’re the Cure advocates who called and emailed council members, participated in community events, and attended last night’s city council meeting.

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Welcome New Louisiana Gov. Relations Director

The American Heart Association is happy to announce that Ashley Bridges is the new Louisiana Government Relations Director.

Ashley has been a dedicated volunteer for quite some time. She has participated in the Capital Area’s Go Red For Women fashion show and is a former state advocacy committee member. She has been working with the smoke free coalition in East Baton Rouge Parish on their efforts to strengthen the local smoke free ordinance. Professionally, Ashley has worked with the Capitol Region Planning Commission as a Regional Transportation Safety Coordinator. Her work with the Planning Commission included everything from working to form coalitions to working on Complete Streets programs. Ashley also served as a legislative analyst with the Louisiana House of Representatives and an assistant with former Speaker Jim Tucker.

Ashley received her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in sociology and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Louisiana State University. She is based in Baton Rouge and can be reached at Ashley.Bridges@heart.org.

Please join us in welcoming Ashley to the American Heart Association!

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Gov. Edwards Approves Tobacco Tax

On Tuesday, Gov. Edwards signed House Bill 14 into law. The legislation will increase the tobacco tax from 86-cents per pack to $1.08 per pack, which is higher than the one in Mississippi and lower than the ones in Texas and Arkansas.

This is not a victory for public health or the economy of Louisiana. The low tobacco tax increase will not:

  • Encourage adults to quit smoking
  • Deter our youth from starting the unhealthy habit
  • Lower health care costs
  • Generate $200 million annually for our state

Thank you to all You're the Cure advocates who called and emailed lawmakers throughout special session, in support of a significant tobacco tax increase. Majority of Louisiana voters of all party affiliations strongly support raising the state’s cigarette tax by $1.25 a pack as a smart solution to close the state’s serious budget shortfall, while saving lives and health care dollars.

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The healthy difference a month can make

March is Nutrition Month, and a perfect time to get more involved with the AHA’s ongoing efforts to promote science-based food and nutrition programs that help reduce cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Every day, we’re seeing new initiatives: to make fruits and vegetables more affordable; to reduce the number of sugar-sweetened beverages that our kids are drinking; and of course, to ensure students are getting the healthiest school meals possible, all with the same goal: to help families across the country lead the healthiest lives they possibly can.

It’s also a great opportunity to lower your sodium intake. The average American consumes more than 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day – more than twice the AHA-recommended amount. Excessive sodium consumption has been shown to lead to elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Visit www.heart.org/sodium for tips on to lower your intake and to get heart-healthy recipes.

However you choose to celebrate, Nutrition Month gives us all the chance to take control of our diets; to recommit to eating fresh, healthy foods; and to remember all month long that you’re the cure.

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Sheron Lee, Hammond

Guest Blogger: Sheron Lee

I am a second generation American Heart Association volunteer; you could say it’s in my genes. In the early 1980s, my dad had open heart surgery in Houston, Texas with Dr. DeBakey from Lake Charles looking on. My parents began a Mended Hearts Chapter in Lake Charles, La. after his surgery. My dad would speak to the patients and my mother would speak to the caregivers. They were active volunteers until their age and health prevented them from their weekly visits to the hospital. I cannot even begin to count the number of lives they touched or the research they may have assisted in from the 1980’s through 2001.

My dad did not require any additional heart procedures and later died from cancer at the age of 83. My mother suffered a few strokes. She needed the assistance of a speech therapist to learn how to swallow her food. My sisters and I cared for her in her home. We became experts on protein shakes and proper liquid intake for Congestive Heart Failure patients. She also needed a pacemaker and then oxygen for her Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). She died at the age of 87 from COPD. It was during the last year of her care I began to notice symptoms of my own. I didn’t have time to be sick and I almost waited too late to help myself. I was definitely in denial.

In 2008, at the age of 50, I was headed for cardiac rehabilitation after two balloons and a stent. My heart was so out of shape, I could only exercise for eight minutes. I vowed to get myself in shape and never let this happen again. My six weeks of rehab ended and I continued on my own almost two years. My heart rate monitor was my new best friend. I dropped the extra pounds and have worked to keep them off. I consider myself an onset athlete. I have made lifestyle changes that are now simply habits. None of this was easy, especially in a state that celebrates every occasion with food, but I get it now. I understand why my parents worked so hard. I am already reaping the benefits of life saving stents and new medications that were only thoughts in the 1980’s. 

During my recovery, my diabetic husband had to have open heart surgery, just like both of his parents. I have been his caregiver through the surgery, ten stents and an ablation that have followed. His journey has proven more tedious because it now involves Medicare and many medications require additional authorizations from health care providers. We have become experts on Medicare appeals. We have learned a lot about our hearts and do everything we can to stay healthy because we can do nothing about our genetics.

I have volunteered with local American Heart Association since 2009. I assist with the Go Red For Women luncheon every year and the local Heart Walks, sometimes providing Zumba. I am a member of the Passion Committee which works toward continuing the mission of the American Heart Association with events throughout the year. I have helped as an advocate by sending emails to our elected officials on issues such as CPR for all high school graduates in the state of Louisiana.

I am blessed. I had parents that showed me how to live with heart disease and use my knowledge to help others. They taught me how to change the things you can and live life to the fullest with what you have been given. I hope to leave the same legacy to my children and grandchildren.

I work full time. I have been a certified Zumba instructor since 2014 and I teach at least two classes a week. I received two more stents in March of 2015. In October of 2015 I completed my sixth half marathon. I no longer consider myself a survivor, but a "thriver." 

I look forward to many more years of volunteer opportunities and doing my part to be part of the cure. After all, it’s in my genes!

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Louisiana Gov. Calls Special Session

On Feb. 5, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards called the Louisiana Legislature into a special session to address the state’s budget shortfalls. Special session is slated to run Feb. 14 at 4 p.m. to March 9 at 6 p.m.

During these three weeks, we will work with Invest in a Healthy Louisiana to increase the state tobacco tax by $1.25. If successful, Louisiana will see: 

  • Reduction in the number of smoking-affected pregnancies and births: 3,800
  • Health care cost savings from fewer smoking-caused lung cancer cases: $5.9 million
  • Health care cost savings from fewer smoking-caused heart attacks & strokes: $13.3 mill
  • Medicaid program savings for the state: $8 million

As you may remember, Invest in a Healthy Louisiana is a coalition that comprises of numerous public health groups, including the American Heart Association, leading the effort to reduce the burden of tobacco use in Louisiana through an increase in the state’s tobacco tax. The coalition successfully obtained a 50-cent increase to the state’s tobacco tax last year, bumping the tax to 86-cents per pack; the national average is $1.61.

With Gov. Edwards calling a special session, we have another opportunity to make a true impact on the state’s budget deficit, and the overall public health of Louisianans. Stay tuned for You're the Cure alerts on how you can help.

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Advocates Push for Smoke-free Capital Area

Secondhand smoke is a major risk factor for heart disease, our state’s No. 1 killer. While the Louisiana Legislature eliminated smoking in most workplaces in 2007, they left thousands of employees, musicians and entertainers in bars and casinos unprotected from secondhand smoke. Now, smoke-free advocates in the Capital Area urge local lawmakers to ensure every worker in East Baton Rouge Parish has a healthy, smoke-free workplace. Read more on The Advocate.

To stay updated on the campaign, you can like the Smoke-free East Baton Rouge campaign on Facebook or follow it on Twitter.

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