Carper, Murkowski, Cassidy, Kind Introduce Bill to Help Reduce Obesity

Bipartisan, bicameral bill aimed at lowering health costs, preventing chronic diseases and increasing Medicare coverage of obesity treatments

WASHINGTON – On the heels of the American Medical Association’s decision to officially recognize obesity as a disease, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Reps. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) introduced legislation today to help lower health care costs and prevent chronic diseases by addressing America’s growing obesity crisis. The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act gives Medicare beneficiaries and their health care providers additional tools to reduce obesity by improving access to weight-loss counseling and new prescription drugs for chronic weight management, among other provisions.

Health care costs related to obesity total nearly $200 billion each year. Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and 42 percent of Americans are projected to become obese by 2030. Obesity increases the risk for chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

“Seven in ten adults struggle with obesity and being overweight, and more than a third of children are overweight or obese. These facts demand that we do more to combat the obesity epidemic,” said Senator Carper. “Not only are these Americans more vulnerable to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, disability and stroke, but as a country we’re spending almost $200 billion a year to treat obesity and its related conditions. If we continue to stand idly by while more and more people become overweight and obese, for the first time in our country’s history our children will live shorter lives than we adults do. We have a responsibility to ensure that our vital health care programs, like Medicare and Tricare, provide Americans with every available treatment and tool for reducing obesity’s physical and financial costs, and the federal government must have a robust strategy for reining in this epidemic. I look forward to working with my colleagues in both chambers to pass this important bill.”

“Obesity is a serious health concern today that leads to severe long-term conditions down the road, and this legislation is a way to begin to stem that tide through better information and treatment to many vulnerable groups,” said Senator Murkowski.  “As the statistics of obesity continue to grow in our country, and even more so in Alaska, we must improve how we treat and inform Americans to raise their quality of life and cut potential health care expenses in the future.”

“As a physician, I have personally seen the impact of obesity on people’s health and spiraling health care costs.  The medical consequences of obesity are clear, but less often discussed is the fiscal consequence of America’s growing waistline. Obesity is responsible for $61.8 billion in Medicare and Medicaid spending. In 2010, the Congressional Budget Office said that nearly 20 percent of the increase in health care spending was caused by obesity. Fortunately, we now have new technologies to help Americans fight obesity. This legislation would help empower physicians to use all the tools in their arsenal to combat this epidemic,” said Congressman Bill Cassidy M.D.

“Fighting obesity is critical to improving public health, and is also an absolute financial necessity,” said Rep. Kind. “We know how severe the health risks of obesity are, and the actual costs of care for obesity-related illnesses are just as alarming. This bipartisan legislation will help bring health care costs under control, by providing more tools for those trying to overcome obesity and lead longer, healthier lives.”

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act would, among other provisions:

  • Allow Medicare to cover additional obesity treatments such as prescription drugs for chronic weight management, which Medicaid already covers in over 20 states. (Weight loss surgery is the only obesity treatment tool currently covered by Medicare.)
  • Require the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to highlight Medicare coverage of intensive behavioral counseling for obesity for seniors and their doctors.
  • Give CMS authority to enhance Medicare beneficiary access to benefits for intensive behavioral counseling by allowing additional types of providers to offer this service.