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 Medicare Recipients To Receive Broader Obesity Treatments If Proposed Bill Passes

Congress reconvenes today, and one of the items on its plate is a proposed bill to expand obesity treatments for Medicare recipients.
About 34 percent of American adults aged 65 and over—15 million people—are obese, according to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If nothing is done to curb the epidemic, says a 2010 Congressional Budget Office Report, nearly half of the elderly population of the United States will be classified as obese by 2030. An often-cited 2009 Health Affairs article says that the health care costs to treat a Medicare beneficiary who is obese average over $1,700 more per beneficiary ($1,964 in 2012 dollars) than a normal-weight beneficiary.
Long term and post-acute care providers are not immune to the obesity epidemic. On top of the increased service utilization and cost, issues related to the care of obese residents include lack of supplies (blood pressure cuffs to accommodate residents with larger arms), equipment (wheelchairs and beds to accommodate residents weighing more than 300 pounds), and space (larger rooms with wider doorways to accommodate larger equipment and wider wheelchairs), plus the potential for staff injuries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse assistants are only behind firefighters and orderlies in terms of having the most debilitating back and other bodily injuries—injuries that are due to lifting and moving patients.
The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House (HR 2404) and Senate (S 1509) before Congress left for recess, would enable Medicare beneficiaries to seek intensive behavioral treatment for obesity beyond their primary care physicians, such as physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and registered dieticians. The bill would also allow Medicare to cover an evidence- and community-based lifestyle counseling program that has been approved by the Department of Health and Human Services. Lastly, Medicare part D would cover obesity and weight loss management drugs for overweight individuals with one or more related comorbidities such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
“America’s obesity problem has morphed from a national nutritional and fitness concern to an economic crisis, becoming a growing financial drain as more and more medical attention is required,” said bill co-sponsor Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in a press release.
The legislation has not progressed beyond the committee level. The House version of the bill was introduced on May 18, 2015 and the Senate version on June 4, 2015.  The House version has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee health subcommittee. The Senate version has been referred to the Committee on Finance.
Yet advocates remain hopeful.
“The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2015 will provide Medicare recipients and their health care providers with meaningful tools to treat and reduce obesity,” said Joe Nadglowski, Obesity Action Coalition president and chief operating officer. “Studies suggest that even a 5-10 percent weight loss produces clinically significant reductions in risk factors for chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and others.”
Jackie Oberst is Provider’s managing editor. Email her at joberst@providermagazine.com. Follow the magazine on Twitter @ProviderMag and @ProviderMyers.
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