Coverage for Obesity Treatments Could Lower Long-term Costs

by Amanda Conschafter, Blog Editor

Medicaid coverage for obesity treatments could save money over the long term, suggests a new policy brief from the Institute for Patient Access.  Released this week, the brief presents the physician’s perspective on America’s obesity epidemic – and the best way to address it.  The brief highlights Medicaid coverage in particular, as Medicaid patients have a statistically higher rate of obesity.

Among the brief’s authors most potent observations is the result of not covering obesity treatments; unchecked, obesity raises patients’ likelihood for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and gallbladder disease.  Treating these diseases proves costly for the Medicaid program, says the brief, especially considering that diabetics account for one quarter of all days spent in the hospital in the United States.

By instead treating obesity itself through drug therapy, nutritional counseling, bariatric surgery or a combination of these three approaches, Medicaid could potentially avoid some of the costlier complications of obesity.

Direct treatment could also minimize patients’ experiences of depression, stigmatization and reduced productivity on the job.  Research shows that obesity is associated with increased medical costs and diminished productivity that costs the United States $73 billion a year.

Despite these statistics, few states offer comprehensive Medicaid coverage for obesity treatment.  For instance, only 10 states cover obesity drug therapy.  Expanding coverage, the brief’s authors explain, could minimize the economic and personal costs of obesity.  And considering Medicaid’s substantial patient population, a policy change could significantly impact the obesity epidemic at large.

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