Op-Eds

The American Medical Association's classification of obesity as a disease should drive patients, health care providers, insurers, and policymakers to take this epidemic seriously. This designation will promote access to prevention, diagnosis treatment and comprehensive coverage determinations of obesity.

McKinsey Quarterly notes that the rise of preventable chronic conditions contributes significantly to the growth of health care costs. Over two-thirds of all American adults are obese or overweight, and excess weight increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other illnesses. Medical costs are directly proportional to body mass index, the leading indicator of obesity. One study found that, in the United States, every point of BMI above 30 is associated with about an 8 percent increase in a person's annual health care expenses. This means that helping people manage their weight can improve both our fiscal health and our physical health.

We recently introduced a bipartisan, bicameral bill that takes important new steps in the fight against obesity.

First, our bill encourages Medicare to expand access to weight management counseling for those who are obese or overweight. The U.S Preventive Services Task Force has found that some Americans who participate in weight management counseling were able to lose an average of 6 percent of their body weight annually and help prevent the onset of additional chronic diseases. While diet and exercise may be simple and effective tools for weight control, these facts demonstrate the important role that weight management counseling could also play in helping Americans control their weight and live healthier lives.

Second, our legislation lifts the ban on obesity drugs under the Medicare Prescription Drug program. Evidence from one FDA clinical trial demonstrated that the proportion of patients who achieved at least 5 percent weight loss with obesity medication was more than twice the number of those in the placebo group. Combined with both diet and exercise, these medications could help Americans better manage their weight. Removing the restriction for Medicare to cover prescription obesity medication is a step forward in providing patients and, really, our country with an "all hands on deck" approach to treating obesity.

If the costs of obesity counseling and drugs are covered by federal health programs, we can examine what treatments help patients the most. Better understanding these outcomes will help us become a healthier country and reduce our healthcare costs.

This op-ed ran in U.S. News & World Report (link)