The Serious

Are State Health Plans Serious About Obesity?

State and federal experts on health are quite happy to talk about the serious health concern of obesity. But we can’t help wondering about the action that results from that talk. So it’s worthwhile to take a good look at what state health plans do for people affected by obesity. According to a new study published this week in Obesity, the answer is not much. Authors Samuel Hughes, William Dietz, and Christine Gallagher found:

“Despite promising new therapies, states in 2021 were less likely to provide coverage for antiobesity medications. Additionally, limited use data suggested that few eligible individuals may be receiving these services. In conclusion, state employee health plans are currently inadequate given the prevalence, severity, and costs of obesity.”

It seems fair to say that all the serious talk about obesity is not matched by serious action within state health plans.

Obesity Care Benefits for State Employees

Hughes et al collected data from public data on U.S. state websites  They examined source documents describing state employee health plans for language indicating availability of coverage for nutritional counseling, pharmacotherapy, or bariatric surgery. They didn’t find much.

In fact, they found that coverage for surgery and nutrition counseling plateaued between 2017 and 2021. In a previous analysis they published, it had been improving. Worse, coverage for obesity meds actually declined. This is notable because the availability of better medicines for obesity actually increased in that time frame. What’s more, the number of clinicians  certified to deliver evidence-based care with these medicines is also growing because of the medical need for this care.

So judging by the structure of state health plans, it seems that the folks in charge are not really serious about helping state employees get obesity under control.

More Talk Than Action

About the only thing that we find everyone embracing for obesity is DIY health improvement. Nothing wrong with that. But for the growing numbers of people with medically significant obesity, it’s really pretty ineffective.

Nonetheless, folks who run these health plans are content to wait and pay for the complications of untreated obesity. Diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, certain cancers, and more are causing needless harm because health plans create barriers to effective obesity care.

This is a sad example of empty rhetoric that’s oblivious to human needs for medical care.

Click here for the study by Hughes et al.

The Serious, painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau / WikiArt

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July 28, 2022