The Studio on the Boat

Grasping Obesity Care Costs and Consequences

Will new obesity medicines bankrupt health systems? This question, recently posed by Arya Sharma, is on the minds of many health economists and policy makers. Sharma predicts that costs will fall, systems of care will evolve, and eventually, the current “hand-wringing” will give way to scenarios that are not so bleak. But what about the bigger picture right now? What are the costs and consequences of obesity care under current conditions?

A Model for Costs and Offsets

A new paper in the Journal of Medical Economics offers us something of a first, says OAC Policy Director Tracy Zvenyach. She says this because Hussain Al-Omar and colleagues have published an analysis of both the costs of obesity-related outcomes in a large health system and a model of the consequences for delivering more effective obesity care. These analyses use data from 314,079 individuals enrolled in a private health insurance plan in Saudi Arabia. The point was to develop good estimates for the cost to deliver a 15 percent reduction in the weight of individuals with obesity and for the effect on the cost of diseases that result from untreated obesity. They tell us:

“The baseline cost (2023) for treating these outcomes was USD 1.245 billion, which could double in 10 years. A 15% weight loss could save USD 1.295 billion over 10 years, with most savings due to T2DM (USD 430 million), given its higher prevalence (27.5%). The model was most sensitive to cost variability in T2DM, dyslipidemia, and hypertension.”

In sum, they say “substantial cost savings” could accumulate over time by reducing the incidence of diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia.

Can’t Never Could

Telling a story of economic gloom about obesity and its treatment is quite easy. Blame the people with this disease, add up the burden they already present to health systems, and present wild estimates for the cost of medicines for obesity treatment. All this for a “preventable” health problem? No thanks, say the nihilists.

The problem with that approach is the inertia it fosters. It leads people to think we can’t afford to do anything about the well-established prevalence of obesity. A bias for inaction prevails and only the few and the wealthy get care. Can’t never could.

The time is now to drop this bias for inaction. Time to shift to a can-do mentality for effective, efficient obesity care, and make a dent in the tremendous harm to health that obesity is causing.

Click here for the study by Al-Omar et al, here and here for further perspective.

The Studio on the Boat, sketch by Charles-Francois Daubigny / WikiArt

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June 10, 2023