Results from one of the largest studies ever conducted to understand obesity treatment coverage show that 3 out of 4 consumers report they are not covered for necessary, evidence-based obesity treatment services. Findings from the study were presented at ObesityWeek 2015.

It costs the American healthcare system over $200 billion annually and increases per person healthcare spending by 56% for patients with obesity vs. normal weight adults. Obese patients incur 46% increased inpatient costs, 27% more doctor visits and outpatient costs, and 80% increased spending on prescription drugs. Also, obese patients were more likely than normal weight patients to have five or more office/clinic visits and visits to a personal physician, as seen in a recent study of Medicare beneficiaries.

RELATED: Severe Obesity Costs Medicaid $8 Billion Annually

In this study, 9,388 respondents completed anonymous, voluntary online surveys in February 2015 about medical services covered by their health insurers. Employed participants answered questions about employer wellness programs with financial incentives based on weight or BMI. 

Most respondents reported having health insurance that would cover hospitalization (70%), a doctor’s visit (65%), or prescription blood pressure medication (57%). Fifteen to twenty percent of respondents reported not having coverage and the remainder were unsure. Coverage for a registered dietitian (28%), medical weight management (23%), bariatric surgery (26%), or obesity drugs (24%) were significantly less common.

Of the employed respondents, 16% said their employers had wellness programs focused on BMI with incentives and/or penalties based on participation. Employees with these wellness programs reported more coverage for obesity treatment: 60% reported coverage for a registered dietitian, 53% for medical weight management, 32% for bariatric surgery, and 30% for obesity drugs.

“Nearly 60 million adult Americans with obesity do not have access to science-based obesity treatments,” stated Theodore Kyle, RPh, MBA, of ConscienHealth and The Obesity Society. “There is a clear gap in treatment; without access to obesity care by experienced medical professionals, too many Americans are being left with nowhere to turn.”

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