Medicare Recognizes Obesity as Illness

Susan Farley
Published Online: Wednesday, September 1, 2004

With the epidemic of obesity so widespread that it is impacting the economy with astronomical health care costs associated with obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes, Medicare has now recognized obesity as an illness and will cover medical claims for obesity treatment. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson recently told a Senate panel, "With this new policy, Medicare will be able to review scientific evidence in order to determine which interventions improve health outcomes for seniors and disabled Americans who are obese." This will also allow Americans to make claims for stomach surgery and diet programs. Medicare covers treatment for illnesses caused by obesity, eg, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer, and gallbladder disease, but coverage for weight loss therapies was not available. The language of the Medicare policy previously stated that obesity was not an illness and therefore not covered. Detractors of this policy change feel that the government is needlessly intervening to make Americans thinner. This revised policy is not expected to change Medicare coverage and impact taxpayers immediately. Further investigation is needed as to which therapies are the most effective and should be covered.

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