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VIEWPOINT: Medicare must support all tools in obesity fight

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Almost 10 years ago, the American Medical Association formally declared that obesity is a disease that requires medical attention and aid. Recently, the Biden-Harris administration addressed the obesity epidemic head on with the National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health.

Peggy Geisler SUSSEX HEALTH COALITION Medicare obesity

Peggy Geisler | PHOTO COURTESY OF SUSSEX HEALTH COALITION

I was so pleased to see the administration outline proactive steps that individuals can take to improve their health. At the same time, these solutions make no word of the medical treatment options for obesity that are available today. Rather than continue to implement outdated solutions, we need to ensure patients have access to all practical, contemporary treatments. At the Sussex Health Coalition, our mission is to engage the entire community in a collaborative way to improve health outcomes, and we hope to see this on a federal level, too.

A vital approach to address obesity under this strategy is covering anti-obesity medications (AOMs) under Medicare Part D in addition to increasing access to preventative measures, including access to healthy, affordable foods. Obesity is linked to life-threatening diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and AOMs have years of clinical success in treating the disease.

Nonetheless, even though medically acclaimed organizations such as American Heart Association have praised the success of AOMs, they are not accessible under Medicare Part D, as well as several other insurance plans – limiting patients’ access to treatments. 

Prolonging the delayed AOMs access extends the risk that obesity patients have of developing other dangerous diseases. Obesity patients are two-and-a-half times as likely to develop heart disease as a healthy weight person, more likely to develop cancer, and often suffer from Type 2 diabetes. By not responding appropriately, we risk worsening the country’s already somber obesity rate, which stands at over 40%. With the National Institutes of Health already estimating that obesity takes the lives of 300,000 Americans each year, this number could continue to get considerably higher.

In addition to the negative impact obesity has on our public health, failing to address obesity would also have a negative impact on an already tumultuous economy. Reports show that the total cost of chronic disease in the country has reached $3.7 trillion, with obesity accounting for nearly half of these expenses. By utilizing effective obesity treatments like AOMs, however, Medicare could save up to $15.5 billion over 10 years and lower health care costs for families across the country.

It is evident that obesity has had a damaging effect on the health of millions of Americans. While I thank the White House for discussing this issue before the nation, they must go further and have Congress expand Medicare Part D to incorporate AOMs for patients battling the disease. Taking this vital step will advance public health for the better by helping avert the development of other dangerous obesity related diseases. Here is Sussex County, we will continue to take a comprehensive and collaborative approach.

Peggy Geisler is the director of the Sussex Health Coalition.

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