Doors Closed, Rue de Chartres, New Orleans

Health Plans Often Stand in the Way of Obesity Care

New research from two separate studies presented at ObesityWeek in New Orleans demonstrates that health plans often stand in the way of obesity care. In one study, researchers from Harvard, ConscienHealth, and the Obesity Action Coalition found that most Americans report they don’t have health insurance that will pay for obesity care recommended in evidence-based guidelines. These include dietary counseling, medical obesity treatment, and bariatric surgery.

Even for people with employers that are targeting obesity in their wellness programs, more often than not, people do not believe that their health insurance will even cover dietary counseling by a registered dietitian. Reported coverage for medical obesity treatment (43%), obesity medicines (37%), and bariatric surgery is even lower. Ted Kyle presented the results on Thursday.

Ruchi Doshi presented research from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. She reported that most health professionals (57%) believe that better insurance coverage for weight management services is important for providing better obesity care in clinical practice. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, DC, and a spokesman for the Obesity Society commented:

While self-management strategies, such as following a commercial diet or increasing exercise, can help in some individuals, most people with obesity, especially those with severe obesity, can benefit from a comprehensive approach that includes healthcare professional support.

Joe Nadglowski, President and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition, added:

Our members report heartbreaking struggles to obtain insurance coverage for services like bariatric surgeries and obesity medicines that are necessary to reduce and prevent the obesity from ravaging their health. Sometimes they are outright denied coverage. Sometimes they are presented with absurd hurdles that have the same effect.

Harvard Obesity Medicine Physician Fatima Cody Stanford participated in the coverage gap research and commented on its implications:

Without coverage, many people must go without good medical care for obesity. The irony is that untreated obesity leads to a host of chronic diseases – like diabetes and heart disease – that wind up costing health plans even more. The current situation makes little sense, financially or medically.

Click here for the abstract of the study presented by Kyle and here for the study by Doshi et al. Click here for Kyle’s slides.

Doors Closed, Rue de Chartres, New Orleans. Photograph © Ted Kyle

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November 4, 2016