Senator Bill Cassidy

OCW2022: Equity in Obesity Care in Medicare

For OCW2022 today, the focus is equity in obesity care – specifically for people who rely upon Medicare. Right now, for these people, Medicare has a huge gap in coverage. At one end of the spectrum, it does a fair job of covering bariatric surgery. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s doing a poor job of giving people access to foundational behavioral therapy for obesity. Only primary care providers – who mostly don’t have time for it – can get paid for the behavioral support programs that help people learn to cope with obesity. Not dietitians or other healthcare professionals with the skill set to do this efficiently.

Then in between those two options, there’s nothing. Medicare does not cover a penny of the costs for anti-obesity medicines. Some of these medicines promise to change the prospects for obesity care, but that doesn’t matter. Based on outdated ideas about “weight loss pills” from the mid to late 20th century, Medicare excludes coverage for important new anti-obesity meds.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act

To plug these holes in Medicare for people with obesity, the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) would allow Medicare to better cover behavioral support for obesity. TROA would also allow Medicare to cover the anti-obesity medicines that are beginning to change the outlook for obesity treatment.

One of the sponsors of TROA, Representative Raul Ruiz, explains the importance:

“The reason why TROA is so important to address the urgency of now is because we know that obesity puts people at higher risk of complications and death from COVID-19. So in order to save lives we need to address obesity.

“I’m an emergency medicine doctor. When a patient comes in, we never ask are they Democratic or Republican. We just see a patient and want to do the best for them. We need to keep the focus on the individuals and how obesity has affected their lives.”

Now Is the Time to Act

The urgency for passing TROA has been building for years now. Senator Bill Cassidy has been supporting it from its very early days, a decade ago. He says the time has come to push through and pass this legislation:

“We live in a representative democracy. It’s my job to represent people. Anyone who cares about the issue should reach to their representative, their senator, and ask them to consider this legislation.”

As OCW2022 comes to a close, it’s clear to change the way we care for people living with obesity, we’ve got do do something to plug these holes in Medicare. Our representatives need to hear our voices and make this happen. It’s really that simple. Today a new commentary in Obesity sums up our feelings:

“We have immense hope in the future of obesity policy in the United States, if only because the alternative is unacceptable.“

Click here, here, and here for more on TROA and access to care for obesity. For a great conversation with Ruiz and Cassidy, check out today’s OCW2022 video release here.

Senator Bill Cassidy, still image from OCW2022 TROA video

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March 4, 2022