Medicare Weighs in on Obesity Counseling for Seniors

Thursday, December 15th, 2011
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

Call it Medicare meets the Biggest Loser.

CMS is now swallowing the costs of screening and counseling for beneficiaries considered to be obese, or at risk for obesity. Doctors determine patients’ eligibility, and those who meet the requirements, or have a BMI greater than or equal to 30 kg/m2, get to participate in the program.

Eligible “contestants” receive dietary and nutritional assessments and face-to-face counseling sessions in a physician’s office each week for a month, and then every other week for an additional five months. The “biggest losers,” or those that lose at least 6.6 pounds, or 3 kg during those six months, get continued sessions for up to a year.

The benefits of the program far outweigh the costs, given the burden that obesity places on states: a recent study from Duke University showed that obesity costs states $15 billion a year in medical expenses. And according to the CMS, over 30 percent of both men and women in the Medicare population are estimated to be obese, a condition that is directly and indirectly associated with many chronic diseases, including those that disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Efforts to help curb the epidemic aren’t new; as we reported in our recent survey on Obesity and Weight Management, nearly 72 percent of respondents said they were implementing programs to manage weight or prevent obesity. While adults accounted for the largest population target, 6.4 percent of respondents said that they were targeting the Medicare population with their weight control programs.

Unlike the “Big Reveal” on the network series, we won’t get to see the transformed patients, unless they land gigs with Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. But the program might take an ever so small bite out of the existing healthcare costs facing us today, and the participants’ loved ones might get to hold onto them (figuratively?) for a little longer.

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