Weight Management Therapy

In the 50 years since Medicare and Medicaid were created, millions of Americans have received needed healthcare coverage. 

Last week, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), said these two programs have created “a healthcare system that is better, smarter, and healthier.”

“As we take a moment to reflect on the past five decades, we must also look to the future and explore ways to strengthen and improve healthcare for future generations,” he said. 

Obesity Medicare

During those celebrations, proponents of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2015 hand-delivered more than 500 packets to encourage lawmakers to support the bill, which would expand Medicare benefits to combat the growing trend of obesity in the United States. 

“A proper way to celebrate Medicare’s golden anniversary would be to ensure the program doesn’t place treatment restrictions on the most common disease, obesity, within the program,” Ted Kyle, R.Ph., chairman of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), said in a press release. “With this in mind, it is crucial that we advocate to our elected officials regarding obesity and its treatments.” 

Read More: Get the Facts on Obesity »

Expanding Behavioral Therapy for Obesity

Currently, Medicare is available to Americans over the age of 65, and to certain people with disabilities. The program’s Part B covers 15- and 30-minute therapy sessions with primary care physicians for people whose body mass index (BMI) is more than 30.

Nationwide — except for Colorado and Hawaii — between 20 and 35 percent of seniors were obese in 2012. That rate is even higher among baby boomers, who have begun to draw on Medicare benefits at an unprecedented rate. 

Medicare coverage has grown to include a projected 54 million Americans in 2014, a 183 percent increase since 1966. 

The new bills — HR 2404 and S 1509 — would extend coverage for these behavioral therapy sessions if they’re performed by primary care physicians as well as a physician assistant, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, clinical psychologist, and registered dietitian or nutrition professional.

It would also cover medication for obesity treatment or weight management for Medicare Part D enrollees.

The push for greater coverage comes as the medical community worldwide urges healthcare providers to take better steps to curb obesity, which affects more than a third of all adults in the United States. 

Read More: FDA Approves New Combination Pill for Obesity »

Scientists Says Better Treatments Needed

While fewer calories in and more calories burned through exercise are key to preventing obesity, it may not be enough to correct long-term obesity, including reducing risks of related diseases such as diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.

Simple calorie restriction, new research suggests, may switch the body into survival mode, believing it will starve. 

Recently, a study found that for every 100 obese people, only one has a decent chance of returning to a healthy weight. Those researchers say the current strategies — namely eating less and exercising more — aren’t enough to tackle obesity. 

“Each day we’re learning more and more that obesity is a complex, multifactorial disease requiring a comprehensive all-of-the-above treatment plan,” Joe Nadglowski, president and chief executive officer of the OAC, said in a press release. 

Read More: Doctors Finally Beginning to Treat Obesity »

A ‘Supported’ Bill Without Enough Votes

Nadglowski said they are excited that more than 100 legislators support the latest incarnation of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act.

“Having this level of support truly demonstrates the importance of this legislation on a national level,” he said. 

While the numbers of supporters may seem encouraging for those who want Medicare coverage for these treatments, a prior introduction of the bill with even greater support didn’t go anywhere. 

It was first introduced in 2013, but even with 121 co-sponsors from Democratic and Republican camps, it failed to move beyond the House or Senate’s health committees. 

That same year, various obesity-focused groups formed the Treat and Reduce Obesity Coalition, which pushed legislation that would encourage better coverage of chronic weight management resources. 

This came at a time when the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to classify obesity as a disease. At the time, AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris said recognizing obesity as a disease would help change the way the medical community tackles this common problem. 

Whether legislators will get behind the new changes to Medicare coverage remains unlikely. 

According to GovTrack.Us — a site independent from the government — the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2015 has a 4 percent chance of getting past committee and a 2 percent chance of being enacted.