Medicare Advantage

New poll shows support for Medicare’s coverage of obesity drugs

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According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), about 57 million people are currently enrolled in Medicare, many of which are 65 years or older. And while Medicare covers a wide array of conditions and treatments, medications approved to treat obesity are denied coverage by law. This is actually a major issue for Medicare beneficiaries, as the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity a disease two years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that between 2007 and 2010, about 35 percent of men and women 65 and over were considered obese. But a new poll shows that the majority of the public feels that certain obesity medications, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), should be covered. There may be good news, as Congress is currently deliberating on a bill that would require Medicare to cover these drugs.

Public support for coverage

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines “overweight” as an excess amount of body weight that may come from muscles, bone, fat, and water. “Obesity” is defined as an excess amount of body fat. With an estimated 13 million Medicare beneficiaries considered obese, it is clearly a serious health concern. For men and women, obesity rates were higher among those aged 65‒74, compared with those aged 75 and over.

The Medicare issue stems from a 2003 prohibiting coverage of prescription obesity medicines. But a host of these have since received FDA approval. As such, a Congressional bill is currently being reviewed that would require Medicare to cover these medications. A recent Gerontological Society of America (GSA) survey involved more than 1,000 people 18 and older. 71 percent said that Medicare should expand coverage to include FDA-approved prescription obesity medicines. The poll also showed that 68 percent felt that Medicare should invest in programs to lower national obesity rates.

“Public policy and society seldom associate obesity with advanced age,” stated James Appleby, the GSA’s CEO. “But recent research has shown that, for those who are over 65 and significantly overweight, the risk of mortality is far greater that it is for younger individuals with excessive body weight. 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.”

Aging and obesity, a dangerous duo

Regardless of age, being overweight or obese may lead to such conditions as: Type 2 diabetes; heart disease; high blood pressure; stroke; high cholesterol; osteoarthritis; cancers, including breast, colon and kidney; and gallstones. But for those 65 or older, obesity carries its own unique dangers.

As people age, added weight can affect their joints. Obesity also affects cognition, which involves the processing of information, decisions, memory, comprehension and problem-solving. Studies show that obesity is associated with a lesser quality of life, particularly among aging adults. It was found that older obese people had decreases in physical functioning and well-being.