Cold Money

Three Views: Health, Costs, and Obesity

Though total health costs have risen more slowly than expected since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they remain high and continue rising. Why? What is the role of obesity and its complications? For perspective, recently consulted with three diverse health industry professionals, including ConscienHealth Founder Ted Kyle.

  1. Investment in Prevention. Marcy Buckner of the National Association of Health Underwriters noted that more utilization of healthcare services has come as the ACA has brought more people into the healthcare system. She noted that investment in mandated preventive services will take time to show a return. She told BenefitsPro:

    “The thought is to spend a little bit of money with wellness and prevention upfront, then those people will be healthier and need less treatment. So far, the studies have been very supportive of this.”

  2. Neglect of Evidence-Based Obesity Care. Kyle pointed to the practice of treating the complications of obesity while denying access to evidence-based care for the underlying problem. He said:

    “We’re coming from a place where health plans really didn’t do a good job of dealing with obesity, and that’s why health costs have built up. But today, there’s more recognition of cost-benefit of therapies like intensive behavioral care and bariatric surgery. Things are improving, but for folks who are living with obesity, it is frustratingly slow.”

  3. Healthcare Technology. David Newman, Executive Director of the Health Care Cost Institute, believes that the biggest cost driver is technology. He acknowledged that improving standards for care, though costly, is not necessarily bad. Then he pointed out that payers and plans can help to drive efficiencies in the midst of this. He said:

    “Clearly, when I’m on the way to the ER, I’m not shopping. Some things are worth shopping for, but many things are not shop-able. But if an employer or insurance carrier negotiates a better price with a provider, every consumer gets that benefit, whether they shop or not.”

These cost pressures are not going away. But burgeoning costs for complications of obesity can be addressed just as soon as health plans and employers get serious about providing better access to evidence-based obesity care.

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Cold Money, photograph © Theo Crazzolara / flickr

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June 22, 2016