Should Medicare Cover the Cost of Obesity Treatment?

Obesity-related chronic diseases are a primary driver of higher costs in the Medicare system.

In the wake of the American Medical Association (AMA) declaring obesity a disease, the results of an Ipsos poll showed a strong belief that Medicare should be required to cover any treatments to treat the condition.

The poll that was administered on behalf of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), who took a sample of 1006 people aged 18 and older from the United Sates from December 9 to 15, 2015. The poll had a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5% points for respondents.

The results of the study showed that 71% of Americans believe that Medicare should invest in programs that would help reduce obesity rates. Furthermore, 87% believed that they had an obesity problem in their state, while 69% felt Medicare should include prescription obesity medication as part of their coverage.

Seventy-seven percent of Americans were unfamiliar with the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 that bans Medicare from covering costs for these prescription medicines.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents were unaware that the FDA determined prescription obesity medications are both safe and effective for treatment over the last 13 years.

"Medicare must begin covering medicines to treat obesity because chronic diseases are a primary driver of higher costs in the Medicare system -- and, as we know, obesity is a primary cause of chronic disease," said former Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy G. Thompson. "Common sense tells us that if Medicare begins covering these medicines, it would reduce the long term costs associated with obesity-related chronic diseases."

Last year, Congress introduced the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which would require Medicare to cover prescription obesity medicine. The legislation has significant bipartisan support.

Recently, research has shown that people over 65 years of age who are significantly overweight carry a greater risk of mortality than those who are younger and overweight.

“Public policy and society seldom associate obesity with advanced age," said Executive Director and CEO of GSA James Appleby, BSPharm, MPH. “The preponderance of evidence is clear: obesity at an older age carries with it a plethora of health problems like diabetes and heart disease and the likelihood of premature death."