Good news — starting in January 2012, obesity counseling and treatment will be covered by Medicare! Medicare cover weight loss? Yes, it’s true! And that means that within a year, or maybe even less, most private medical insurance companies should also provide insurance coverage for weight loss treatment and obesity counseling.
We are very excited that Medicare has recognized the role weight plays in one’s overall health – enough so that they are willing to provide obesity counseling insurance coverage for people seeing a primary care physician with specialized training in obesity if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above.
This is a huge step forward in the battle against obesity because for the first time, obesity will be considered a medical condition, not simply a social or cosmetic issue. And since 1 in 3 adults in the United States are obese and many avoidable health conditions like heart disease and diabetes are linked to obesity, it means millions of people are finally going to be able to safely lose weight through physician-driven obesity counseling and treatment, and quite possibly avoid or turn around many serious long-term health problems that are increasing at an alarming rate.
The move will also help us as a society save millions, possibly billions, of dollars in healthcare costs related to the many preventable health problems caused by obesity, similar to how covering the cost of medications to help people quit smoking has saved countless lives and dollars that would have otherwise been spent on treating the cancer, emphysema, and other serious health problems linked to tobacco use.
I have long advocated that obesity should be considered a health issue, that weight loss should be overseen by a medical professional specially trained in managing this complex condition, and that medical insurance should cover the cost of that care.
Now, thanks to this big step forward, people will soon be encouraged to see a doctor and finally get the medically sound nutritional and fitness guidance and intensive one-on-one behavioral counseling and behavioral therapy (including weekly, then bi-weekly, then monthly medical appointments) required to lose the weight and keep it off.
There is some fine print, of course. Patients will need to lose 3 kg (about 6 pounds) or more within the first 6 months in order for coverage of obesity counseling and treatment to continue past then. However, with a sound program like the one we use at The Center for Medical Weight Loss, most people can lose that much weight in just a few weeks.
I hope that Medicare will take it one step further and also cover the cost of medical care for weight loss provided by all specially trained specialists such as cardiologists, endocrinologists, and others who see patients on a daily basis with health problems linked to or caused by obesity, not only primary care physicians.
I also hope that more doctors will get the specialized training in weight loss and weight management they need to help their patients combat this serious and all too common threat to their health. Shockingly, currently most doctors get little or no training in this area in medical school and are therefore at a loss about how they can help their patients lose weight.
In short, this exciting insurance coverage news means that more people can turn to a medical professional to get the obesity counseling and treatment they need to safely lose the weight and improve their health in the process.
Dr. Michael Kaplan
Founder and Chief Medical Officer