Obesity Epidemic Paralyzes Health Care Reform
A sign of the times: Insurance companys would rather fork over payments to keep diabetes and heart disease treated than pay for stomach stapling or other bariatric treatments, thus eliminating the need for diabetic or heart medications and tests. Better yet: pay for preventative measures, such as full health club memberships and supplements.
About two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, putting them at an increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, osteoarthritis, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems and even some cancers.
The direct and indirect costs of obesity is $117 billion each year, according to a 2000 report by the U.S. Surgeon General.
Christine Ferguson, associate professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and the director of STOP Obesity Alliance, said the stigma surrounding obesity and belief that it is not a disease are keeping the government from addressing the crisis.
“At the root of this is that people still have a real problem thinking about obesity as anything other than a willpower issue,” said Ferguson. “It is still perfectly acceptable to think about excluding treatment.”
In Mississippi, rated the nation’s fattest state for the third consecutive year, a bill that would have banned restaurants from serving obese customers died almost immediately after it was introduced in February.
The Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit group that focuses on disease prevention, reported that adult obesity rates rose in 37 states in the past year, while no state saw a decrease.
In its 2008 report: ‘F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies are Failing in America’, the Trust said Mississippi has per capita medical costs that are among the highest in the nation. It also has a Medicaid policy that specifically excludes coverage for bariatric surgery.