Obesity, a Fledgling Disease, Needs Physician Support
After the AMA declared obesity as a disease, legislation was introduced in the U.S Senate and House of Representatives that would require Medicare to cover more obesity treatment costs. The proposed Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, focuses on payments for prescription drugs for weight management and allows providers to be financed to offer intensive behavioral counseling for obese patients.
Whether CMS will declare obesity a disease remains to be seen. The AMA "cannot predict what, if anything, CMS will do in response to the adoption of this AMA policy," Harris says. "While the AMA is not the authority that dictates insurance coverage of procedures and treatments, this policy could potentially encourage the government and other third-party payers to increase their coverage of obesity-related services."
Paul Teitelbaum, a healthcare expert and managing director with Mesirow Financial's investment banking group in Chicago, told me the AMA's action is significant because there will be "an increase in investment and strategic" decisions directed toward medical device innovation for obesity treatment.
All this is certainly well and good. But discussions between patients and physicians may be the most helpful tool for treating obesity. And so far, many physicians haven't done an effective job in treating obese patients.
For one thing, many doctors don't tell patients they have a weight problem that needs to be addressed. An Archives of Internal Medicine study found that only one-third of 5,500 patients who were obese and 55% of overweight participants were told by a doctor about their weight issues. Moreover, only 30 to 40% of family practitioners compute their patients' body mass index on a regular basis, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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