USA Today Looks At Debate Over Insurance Coverage for Obesity
In a cover story in its "Life" section yesterday, USA Today examined the debate surrounding the growing problem of obesity in America and whether it should be classified as a disease that qualifies for coverage by all insurers and the federal government. The nation's "leading obesity organizations" say that obesity, which affects about 26% of American adults and contributes to about 300,000 deaths a year, is a disease that "needs medical intervention," and that covering treatments such as doctors' visits, nutrition counseling and weight-loss drugs -- which some insurers already do -- would bring down health care costs in the long run. Morgan Downey, executive director of the American Obesity Association, an advocacy group working to promote public policies on obesity, said, "Obesity is the engine that is driving a lot of diseases -- heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis. We're paying for those diseases, but not contributing nearly enough to deal with the underlying cause, and that just doesn't make sense." But critics of this approach say that covering obesity as a disease would lead to a huge increase in obesity-related health costs and in turn would raise premiums for businesses and individuals. "Historically, insurance companies have looked at obesity as a condition that an individual should be able to manage through modifying their own eating habits and increased exercise," Frank Apgar, senior medical director of care management for Blue Shield of California, said, adding, "Does one really need a doctor to accomplish these goals?" USA Today reports that increasing health coverage for certain obesity treatments could increase health costs by billions of dollars per year. Meanwhile, CMS officials are expected to announce soon whether Medicare, which currently doesn't cover treatments for obesity, will classify it as a disease (Hellmich, USA Today, 1/21).