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Access to Care Matters for Obesity and Diabetes

We are constantly hearing about obesity and the growing burden of chronic diseases that come from it. So with more than a third of the U.S. population already affected by obesity, it makes sense that access to care to prevent or slow the progression of chronic diseases resulting from obesity is urgently needed.

By the end of April, the Obesity Action Coalition expects that the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act will be introduced into the new session of Congress with bi-partisan support. The purpose of this legislation is to remove barriers to obesity treatment under Medicare that are accidents of history. It would open up the possibility for dietitians and other skilled obesity care providers to help people manage their condition and prevent it from progressing.

It would remove statutory barriers to coverage of FDA-approved medicines for treating obesity. These barriers are artifacts of a time when no safe and effective long-term treatments for obesity were available.

We are already seeing that access to care makes a big difference in diabetes. As more and more people are gaining insurance coverage, more people are coming forward to get their diabetes under control. A new study in Diabetes Care finds a 23 percent surge in diagnosis and treatment of diabetes when people gain expanded access to healthcare through Medicaid.

In obesity, access to evidence-based care remains a problem. Under the Affordable Care Act, all health plans are supposed to cover preventive services that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has found to be effective. Intensive behavioral treatment (IBT) is one such service. So health plans all say that they cover it. Some actually provide real IBT services. Others pay for one conversation with your doctor per year — something that is proven to have no impact on obesity.

In the Obesity Action Coalition’s research, we find that most people have health insurance to cover hospital stays, doctor visits, and routine prescriptions like blood pressure medicines. But most people say their insurance won’t cover a registered dietitian, medical weight management, obesity medicines, or obesity surgery if they need it.

Obesity is a chronic disease. Without evidence-based medical care, it gets worse. So the Obesity Action Coalition unequivocally supports the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, as well as efforts to improve access to evidence-based medical care for obesity under every health plan.

To learn more about the Treat Obesity Act and how you or your organization can get involved, please click here. To read the analysis of access to care in diabetes, click here. For a companion editorial, click here.

This article originally appeared in the newsletter of the STOP Obesity Alliance.

No Access, photograph © Bob the Lomond / flickr

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