Pretending to Keep the Cost of Treating Obesity Down

Today marks the start of Obesity Care Week and all over the globe, this is World Obesity Day. To mark this day, dozens of advocates from all of the major organizations that care about improving the standard of care for obesity have converged on the U.S. Capitol for dialog with policymakers about opening the pathway to better access to obesity care. Meanwhile, many folks are pretending to keep the cost of treating obesity down by blocking people from receiving new and genuinely effective treatments for obesity.

Cutting People Off from Effective Obesity Care

For example, the State of North Carolina thinks it can save $100 million this year by cutting off access for its employees to  treatment with GLP-1 medicines for obesity. “We can’t spend money we don’t have, we just can’t,” said one board member

This thinking misses the big flows of money already going out from every health plan for obesity. We are spending $300 billion on the direct medical costs of diabetes. For heart disease, the medical costs are more than $200 billion. Much of this spending and its rapid growth is the the result of untreated obesity. The cost burden extends to many other diseases such as joint disease, liver disease, cancer, and much more.

So for patients who have found that new obesity medicines are keeping them healthy, pretending they will bring the cost of obesity down by not treating it is simply delusional. The costs pile up as chronic diseases progress from neglecting obesity treatment.

Finding a Way

As the Washington Post pointed out recently, we’ve got to find a way to provide better access to care:

“Surely, health insurers, including employers and Medicare, can find a way to pay for these extraordinary drugs. If they don’t, only wealthy people will benefit — while poorer Americans are more prone to obesity. And the opportunity to bring a large share of the population back to good health will be largely lost.”

This will not be easy. The unmet medical need is great and decades of neglecting obesity care has already added up to a huge burden of chronic diseases that result when obesity progresses without appropriate care.

Fortunately, it looks like policymakers are paying attention to the value of preventive care. In early February, the House Budget Committee unanimously voted to support the Preventive Health Saving Act. The point of this is to think differently about the cost of decisions like the denial of care for obesity. Axios says this unanimous vote may boost the likelihood of improving obesity care coverage in Medicare.

This is essential. Because denying people effective care for obesity when they turn 65 (or if they’re on Medicare for a disability) very definitely does not save money. It adds to medical costs.

Click here to take action for Obesity Care Week and add your voice to the the voices calling for smarter policies on obesity care.

Fantasy, painting by Maurice Prendergast / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


March 4, 2024