OCAN on the Hill

Asking for Real Action Now on Obesity

“I just worry about opening the floodgates.” These are the kinds of things you might hear when you talk to folks who’ve never lived with obesity about access to care. But undaunted by such implicit bias, 35 volunteers made more than 100 visits with their elected representatives to ask for real action now on obesity.

Yesterday was the day for the Obesity Care Advocacy Network (OCAN) to spend a day on the Hill, seeking action on the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA).

Fighting Inertia and Implicit Bias

Right now under Medicare, people have very little access to real medical care for obesity. In theory, it covers intensive behavioral programs (like the Diabetes Prevention Program). But the reality is that less than one percent of the people who need such a program actually get it. And none can get coverage for the new generation of safe and effective obesity meds approved in the last five years. Come back and see us when you need bariatric surgery.

Current rules make it hard to get behavioral therapy for obesity and impossible to get obesity meds under Medicare. The enemy is inertia.

Some policymakers cling to the idea that there’s something fundamentally wrong with people who have obesity. “What about untreated depression and mental illness? Shouldn’t we be dealing with that?” True and beside the point. These are the kind of interactions that come into conversations with policymakers who simply have no clue about obesity. Some folks who’ve had a slender body type all their lives prefer to believe it’s a product of their personal virtue.

Others understand it 100 percent. They themselves or a loved one have struggled all their lives with the disease and gotten little help.

Encouraging Signs

The good news is that more and more people fall into that latter camp. We still need effective prevention programs. But with 40 percent of the population now having obesity, prevention by itself will never be enough.

“I see good reason to be optimistic about passing TROA in this session of Congress,” said OAC President Joe Nadglowski. “We have more support than ever and a good story to tell about saving money by preventing chronic diseases.”

We share his optimism – even knowing how difficult it is to get real action now in Washington.

OCAN on the Hill, photograph by Pam Davis / flickr

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March 1, 2019