The Perception Gap in Obesity Care

When does a benefit not feel like a benefit? In the case of obesity care, that feeling comes with the perception that it’s just out of reach. Even though insurance coverage for obesity care is improving, a significant gap remains. And part of the problem is a perception gap.

A new study published in Obesity finds that most people report that their health insurance will not cover evidence-based obesity care. Examples of such care include a dietitian’s services, medical weight management, FDA-approved drugs for obesity, and bariatric surgery.

Less than half of U.S. adults report that they have insurance that will pay for any of these services.

Even for the most effective treatment option available for severe obesity – bariatric surgery – less than 25% say they are covered. And when employers say they are concerned about obesity and target BMI in their wellness programs, the number isn’t much higher. It’s 34%.

But here’s the thing. From surveys of employers we know that coverage has been improving, especially for bariatric surgery. More than half of employers now cover bariatric surgery in their health plans. Apparently, perceptions have not caught up with the reality of improving coverage.

Increasingly, obesity medicine physicians report that insurers will compensate for obesity care. Careful documentation of treatment for obesity’s complications is important, but the compensation trends are in the right direction.

We may be closing the coverage gap. But closing the perception gap might be just as hard and every bit as important.

Click here for the study in Obesity.

Purgatoire, photograph © Patrick Marioné / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


January 12, 2017