Obesity Innovation: Not for People Who Need It

Over the past five years, the pace of obesity innovation has noticeably quickened. But health plans are clearly not keeping up in providing access to evidence-based care for obesity. In a new commentary published by the American Journal of Managed Care, Ted Kyle and Fatima Cody Stanford point to a growing gap:

Responding to the medical need for better treatment options in obesity, the FDA has approved four new obesity medications since 2010: phentermine/topiramate, lorcaserin, bupropion/naltrexone, and liraglutide. Each of these drugs met FDA criteria for efficacy, namely providing sustainable weight loss of 5% or more—either on average or in more than 50% of patients treated. Consistent with guidelines for obesity care, this level of efficacy was shown for each of these new drugs to provide significant improvements in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and quality of life.

However, incorporation of these new drugs into clinical care of people with obesity has been slow, in large part due to poor coverage under drug benefit plans.

This growing gap has serious consequences for people living with obesity. Stanford, an obesity medicine physician at Harvard, explains:

In my daily practice, I often find that I can’t prescribe the evidence-based care that a patient needs because of extreme limitations on what health plans will cover. It’s a shame, because we have treatments that we know will work. But often the patients who need these treatments the most simply can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs that health plans impose.

The worst aspect of this problem is that obesity disproportionately affects people with lower socioeconomic status who already have limited access to care. Add this fact to the especially poor coverage for obesity care and it’s no wonder that the costs for untreated obesity are growing exponentially.

The populations that most need evidence-based obesity care are the very same populations that seldom receive it. Consequently, they account for a growing health and economic burden of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a host of other chronic diseases that result from untreated obesity.

Click here to read the commentary by Kyle and Stanford.

Closed, photograph © Craig Sunter / flickr

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September 23, 2015