Posts Tagged - ‘obesity’

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Healthcare Reform Provisions and Obesity Treatment

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Image: Combined Media under CC 3.0

Tomorrow, several of the earliest provisions of the healthcare reform law will go into effect. Many of these involve preventative care.

The paradox with a lot of health insurance plans is that they typically do not pay for medically supervised diets or nutritional counseling for the overweight and obese. (They may cover gastric bypass or other weight loss surgery, but some patients are not considered morbidly obese enough to be eligible for reimbursement.) However, they will cover the more expensive cost of treating related conditions like type 2 diabetes or sleep apnea when they are later developed.

The legislation looks to change that. Here is how it will change:

  • Recommended preventative care treatments are covered without co-payments or co-insurance percentages for policyholders, including behavioral counseling and obesity screening.
  • Public health initiatives will make calorie counts more visible, making it easier for people to eat healthily and lose/maintain their weight.
  • Comparative effectiveness research will be undertaken to determine if insurers will be required to cover gym memberships, therapy, or special meal programs.
  • An advisory group will look into the effectiveness and risks of weight loss drugs and surgery, possibly requiring coverage of those deemed more effective than harmful.
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Should Health Insurance Plans Cover Gastric Bypass Surgery?

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

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Obesity is a condition that impacts the health of millions of Americans. There are several options in dealing with it: diet and exercise is the most obvious. An increasing number of health insurers are encouraging the former through wellness programs.

However, success rates are relatively low. Some are proposing gastric bypass surgery as a solution. Some health insurance plans cover the $30,000 surgical procedure for the morbidly obese, but others believe that the investment in preventative care. Obese teenagers, especially, are increasingly taking advantage of it.

By no means is surgery a panacea: some people manage to regain all their weight (though fewer than the 95% who do so with diet and exercise), and up to a third of patients have medical complications. Still, in most cases gastric bypass seems to cure type 2 diabetes (which is expensive to treat for many years). The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder, himself a gastric bypass patient, speculates that paying for the procedure for all obese Americans would end up costing less than the medical complications associated with obesity. However, it is an extreme option of last-resort, and is an over $30 billion-worth pipe dream.

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Obese Mothers-To-Be Cost Hospitals More

Monday, June 7th, 2010

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The obesity epidemic has resorted in an increasing number of pregnant women who are already overweight prior to becoming pregnant. Although losing weight prior to conceiving is ideal, that is not always possible. Unfortunately, both the baby and mother can experience serious complications, which her health insurance plan must pay for.

As a result, hospitals must spend far more money on delivery for obese mothers. Caring for a premature birth–which is more likely in seriously obese women–helps drive the cost up to $200,000 for that high-risk birth. By contrast, a normal delivery costs about $13,000. The increased expense of labor and specialized supplies is passed on through higher health insurance rates for all women.

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Do Group Health Insurance Wellness Incentives Actually Work?

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

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An increasing number of companies are offering wellness incentives to their employees, in order to inspire them to maintain a healthy weight or quit smoking. Many of these benefits include the opportunity to have a higher portion of their health insurance premiums paid by the employer.

Tobacco use and obesity among the American workforce costs companies billions of dollars in increased health care costs, so it is a worthy goal. However, there are some doubts that the incentives are actually effective.

According to a study from Cornell University, the average weight loss in several of those employer programs was just one pound; too little to make a significant difference in health outcomes or group health insurance rates.

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Obese Women Less Likely To Get Cervical Cancer Screening

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Image: Choose Hope

Obesity is one of the most pressing public health issues today. It costs our health care system millions of dollars each year. While that needs to be dealt with, the stigma against being overweight may be even more dangerous and costly to the average health insurance plan.

A recent study suggests that obese people are more likely to delay medical treatment for unrelated illnesses (which are easier to treat and riskier), in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations with physicians. It’s a fine line between advice and harassment at times. The example given is with cervical cancer screening: obese women are less likely to receive cervical exams than women of normal weight. As a result, their conditions may worsen–and cervical cancer may not be caught until its advanced stages, when it’s far more expensive to treat.

Why is this the case? The survey’s authors believe that obese women may be more embarrassed, worried about negative reactions from providers, and concerned about equipment and coverings that are too small for them. It’s a reminder that doctors and health insurance providers shouldn’t neglect other health concerns while fighting obesity.

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Health Insurance To Fight Childhood Obesity?

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

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The House of Representatives recently released a list of over 70 recommendations intended to reduce the childhood obesity epidemic, upon First Lady Michelle Obama’s request.

One of their recommendations is that family health insurance plans cover the prevention and treatment of obesity in children. Reducing the percentage of overweight and obese children is predicted to save our health care system up to $150 billion annually.

Services these health insurance providers could offer include visits to a nutritionist (with no or nominal co-payment), counseling, and tips on exercise and other forms of healthy living.

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Your Health Insurance May Cover Plastic Surgery After Weight Loss

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

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After losing a significant amount of weight, many people deal with loose skin. Although their health outcomes are clearly better, it can be dismaying to see flab after defeating obesity.

In some cases, excess skin may even result in medical discomfort, such as back pain or rashes. If you can prove that cosmetic surgery–e.g. a tummy tuck–is medically necessary for those reasons, it is possible that health insurance plans will reimburse the cost.

You are more likely to find success in having your health insurance pay for the procedure if you had gastric bypass or other weight loss surgery.

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Are Health Insurance Companies Hypocrites?

Friday, April 16th, 2010

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Most health insurance companies are ramping up their promotion of wellness campaigns. Their strategy involves reducing the cost of claims–and therefore the price of premiums–by improving the health of policyholders. Many of these programs involve weight loss and improvements in diet.

Strangely, it has been found that many insurers are major stockholders in fast food corporations! In total, they own about $2 billion worth of stock in McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell; as well as other similar restaurants. These companies have been blamed for their role in America’s obesity epidemic. Insurers may also profit twice, because they have been able to charge higher rates to those who have overindulged in fast food and harmed their health–although healthcare reform will minimize that incentive, beginning in 2014.

Researchers at the Harvard Medical School believe that providers of individual, group, and family health insurance should use their clout as significant shareholders to push those chains to provide a wider selection of healthier products and offer smaller portion sizes.

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Affordable Health Insurance Reform Brings Menu Calorie Counts

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

(Image: Rachel from Cupcakes Take The Cake under CC 3.0)

America’s obesity epidemic is widely considered at least partly to blame for rising health insurance costs. So why not include some attempts at preventative measures in the health bill?

At least, that’s what Democrats thought. After similar laws in New York City and California, chain restaurants with more than 20 locations nationwide are now required to post calorie counts on their menus for all regular items. The Food and Drug Administration will set a new standard. Vending machines will also be subject to the regulation.

Many chains already offer nutrition information, but it is often hidden in a far-away poster, pamphlet, or on their website. Supporters believe that the new standard will help people make better food choices as they order, while opponents are skeptical of its effectiveness. Moreover, it is yet another example of increasing government involvement. While obesity is associated with conditions like diabetes and heart disease–which make health insurance plans more expensive due to the cost of treatment–is this approach too reminiscent of a nanny state?

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Grandparents role in Childhood Obesity

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Children who are looked after by their grandparents are receiving an overwhelming amount of love and apparently an overwhelming amount of food too. A new study report published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that kids who are looked after by their grandparents are more likely to be overweight than kids cared for by childminders or parents.

The study was based on data from 12,000 children. Researchers discovered that, compared with kids cared for solely by their parents, kids looked after by grandparents part-time, were 15% more likely to be overweight. When grandparents were full-time carers, the chance of a child being overweight went up by 34%.

When children start gaining extra weight it may seem innocent enough with most parents calling it baby fat. But, there is nothing minor about the childhood obesity rate; the issue has become a national epidemic. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2007, nearly half of US children are either overweight or obese. A team of US doctors is urging parents to start screening children at a younger age and note that children with weight problems become overweight before age two. The critical period for preventing childhood obesity is in the first two years of life and for many by three months of age. Having good health insurance is key to keeping children in good health. This will ensure children have access to regular checkups and medical advice.

The study did not examine the reason children who are cared for by grandparents are often fatter. However, some believe it’s because grandparents are more indulgent with snacks and other high calorie foods while parents are often more knowledgeable about healthy eating. This is such an important issue because kids who are overweight are more likely to develop health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. The cost of medical insurance will also be affected for those who are overweight. Health insurance companies often view overweight individuals as a greater risk and will increase the cost of health coverage.

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