MN should help cover obesity treatments

Startling statistics show that this problem is here to stay unless states provide help.

by Keelia Moeller

The Affordable Care Act, known better as “ObamaCare,” has implemented yet another measure of health care reform. As of the beginning of 2015, Americans will have the option to switch over to health care plans that cover obesity treatment. Among the services included are weight loss programs, bariatric surgery — used on the stomach to induce weight loss — and nutrition counseling.

Now 36 states will offer some sort of weight-loss solution for their patients, including these services as “Essential Health Benefits.” So far, 23 states cover bariatric surgery, 25 states cover nutrition counseling and only five will cover weight loss programs.

Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota are all among the states that will implement these changes. Minnesota, however, has yet to follow suit with its surrounding states, and it does not offer any obesity treatment coverage in the State Health Insurance Marketplace.

Some might believe that covering obesity treatment might remove the financial motive for Americans to lose weight or even lead them to lose weight in an unhealthy way. I believe it is quite the opposite.

Providing coverage for bariatric surgery will not necessarily have all obese patients running to the operating room. In fact, this is a very dangerous procedure that is typically provided only under extreme conditions of obesity. There are many disadvantages that accompany bariatric surgery, and choosing to undergo it is not a simple decision to make.

In addition, bariatric surgery is only one of many other services that states will offer to those struggling with their weight. Many fail to lose weight because they have neither the knowledge nor the means to do so in a healthy manner.

However, providing obese patients with nutrition counseling is an enormous step. They will be able to obtain knowledge of how to change their eating habits in a way that will take them in the right direction.

There are also four states — New Mexico, Montana, Michigan and Massachusetts — as well as Washington, D.C., that have chosen to offer weight loss programs to their obese patients.

While the number remains small, I believe this is an essential service to offer to those who struggle with obesity.

Nutrition counseling alone is a slow and steady way for patients to change their lifestyles, but it’s also essential to provide patients with knowledge of how to effectively exercise to speed up the weight loss process.

Both nutrition counseling and weight loss programs will allow patients not only to lose weight but also maintain their weight loss.

In 2013, 25.5 percent of Minnesotan adults were obese, and 35.6 percent were overweight. Nationwide, 29.4 percent of adults were obese while 35.4 percent were overweight.

This is a clear public health issue — and not just a statewide one.

We must combat this issue — it’s not going to solve itself. Minnesota ought to step up and include bariatric surgery, nutrition counseling and weight loss programs under its obesity treatment coverage plans.