CMS calls obesity a ‘disease’

Sunday, July 18, 2004

July 19, 2004

WASHINGTON - Medicare changed its position last week and stated that obesity is a disease. The move gives hope to people who want the federal program to pay for treatments related to this growing health problem.
CMS has routinely denied coverage for a host of weight-loss therapies.
While the decision does not automatically mean any specific treatment will be covered, the move opens the door to what is expected to be a flood of applications from individuals, doctors and companies for Medicare to begin paying for a wide variety of therapies. These include stomach surgery, diet programs and behavioral and psychological counseling, according to the Washington Post.
Because private insurance companies often pattern their coverage after Medicare, the decision is expected to put strong pressure on them to expand coverage for weight-loss treatments. Representatives from the insurance industry, which recently has begun scaling back on payments for stomach surgery, welcomed the decision and signaled companies would take their cues from Medicare.
Critics denounced the decision, arguing that the health consequences of being overweight have been exaggerated and that any real problem is one of individual responsibility.
Because it was unclear exactly what Medicare would eventually pay for, there were no immediate estimates of what the policy change would cost the government, the Post reported.