HEART DISEASE: Medicare to Assume Costs for Ornish Diet
In an effort to reduce spending on heart disease costs, Medicare will offer some seniors afflicted with the condition an alternative to heart surgery: a new diet. Medicare officials announced a new test project Friday that would pay for "up to 1800 elderly Americans with severe heart disease to try Dr. Dean Ornish's famous but radical ultra low-fat diet." Conventional treatment for heart patients costs between $16,000 and $29,000 per person, while the Ornish plan costs only $7,200, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. Ornish reported last winter in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the diet and lifestyle plan -- which requires patients to become vegetarians, cut fat intake to no more than 10% of total calories, exercise regularly and learn stress-management techniques -- "can help heal heart disease without surgery." Although some experts are "skeptical" of the study because it involved only 28 patients and the results have yet to be duplicated, officials hope the alternative diet will "save some of the more than $6 billion a year now spent on heart surgery" for Medicare recipients. Patients' progress will be tracked over four years to determine whether the diet plan is "medically effective" (Neergaard, 10/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.