NCQA Says Obesity Quality Measures Are Working

November 1, 2012 — The new annual report of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), the leading independent national group that evaluates health plans, cites important progress in addressing obesity. First, Medicare’s program for making higher payments to health plans based on performance is reaping dividends. Second, prodded by quality measures, doctors are stepping up efforts to identify and counsel patients with obesity.

Medicare’s bonus payment program for health plans that rank higher on quality measures is controversial, with Republicans saying Democrats are using it to hide the eventual sharp cuts the health care lawmakers to the plans. Yet the NCQA report concludes that a payoff from those bonus payments is now evident. 

Another finding is that caregivers in health plans are more likely to screen enrollees for obesity, not only among the elderly but also among the young. According to the report, calculating body mass index — a measure of obesity determined by height and weight — is the first step toward developing a plan for weight management.

In 2009, NCQA introduced adult BMI assessment to its quality measures. In 2011, the report states,  “We have seen major jumps in improvement on this measure across commercial, Medicaid and Medicare lines of business and for HMOs and PPOs.The greatest gains are among Medicare plans — with an increase of 18 percentage points for HMOs and almost 26 percentage points for PPOs.”

The BMI measurement measure is a reminder system for the doctor. Measuring BMI “naturally leads to counseling.” The next step for NCQA would be to ask health plans if their doctors provide counseling on nutrition and exercise.

The report also sees “see significant gains in three measures of care related to obesity in children 3 to 17 years of age. One measure calls for clinicians to counsel on physical activity, another to counsel on nutrition and another to assess BMI.”

Click here to read the full NCQA Quality report.