Seeing Clearly

U.S. and Canada: Confusion on Obesity Care Coverage

For a long time now, Canadians have taken pride in their system of universal healthcare. In the U.S., more people than ever before now have health insurance. But a new study presented at ObesityWeek 2017 shows that one thing hasn’t improved in either country. Obesity care coverage  remains poor in both countries.

Both in the U.S. and Canada, if a person living with obesity needs medical care for their condition, they’re not sure it’s covered.

Covered for Other Diseases, But Not Obesity

The study surveyed 9,517 adults in both the U.S. and Canada about their health plan coverage for medical services. In both countries, most people said they have coverage for doctor visits, hospitalizations, and blood pressure medications.

But for obesity care, the results in both countries were exactly the opposite. Most people said they were not sure their health plan would cover medical weight management, a registered dietitian, obesity medications, or bariatric surgery.

Commenting on these results, lead author Ted Kyle said:

These results are deeply disturbing. The first line of defense for many chronic diseases is weight management. Evidence-based obesity care can prevent diabetes. It can help to control blood pressure. It can even reduce the risk of obesity-related cancers. For health plans to exclude obesity care while paying dearly to manage chronic diseases is utterly foolish.

TROA: A Path Toward Better Access to Care

CEO Joe Nadglowski of the Obesity Action Coalition said this study underscores the need for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA):

Right now, the only widely available option for people in Medicare is bariatric surgery. TROA would open up other effective options for people who might not yet need or want surgery to get their obesity under control. FDA-approved medicines can make a big difference for the health of a person living with obesity. Likewise, expert help from a registered dietitian can be critical for overcoming obesity.

When a health plan like Medicare excludes these evidence-based options, it puts them out of reach for many people.

A Frustration for People Who Need Care

“Unfortunately,” said Ximena Ramos Salas of the Canadian Obesity Network, “these data confirm a problem that we identified in our 2017 Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment in Canada. Public and private payers simply are not providing enough support for obesity treatments, and access to them is uneven across the country.”

“This problem frustrates me every day as I try to care for people with obesity,” said Fatima Cody Stanford. She is an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School. “Many people who need care simply give up because their health plans don’t cover it. So they wait and I see them only after conditions like diabetes and heart disease get much worse.”

Click here for the full study summary.

Seeing Clearly, photograph © barloventomagico / flickr

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October 31, 2017

One Response to “U.S. and Canada: Confusion on Obesity Care Coverage”

  1. November 06, 2017 at 11:04 am, Traci said:

    Another reason to advocate for and educate about ACA based preventative services such as nutrition counseling coverage!