Coalition Applauds Reintroduction of Obesity Treatment Bill, Urges Passage

Coalition Applauds Reintroduction of Obesity Treatment Bill, Urges Passage
Coalition Applauds Reintroduction of Obesity Treatment Bill, Urges Passage


After several U.S. senators and representatives reintroduced the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act in the Senate Thursday, one coalition applauded the bill for its ability to reduce disparities in obesity treatment. The bill would expand Medicare coverage for obesity screenings, treatments and therapies like anti-obesity medications.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act “is a critical first step to address our country’s escalating obesity epidemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color,” said Dr. Elena Rios, co-chair of the Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease and president and CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association. “Our current healthcare policies deny millions of people of color from accessing the care they need to treat this chronic, deadly disease — perpetuating health inequities and preserving roots of systemic racism that have put access to health care out of reach for millions of Black and Brown Americans.

“The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act is vital to begin updating and modernizing obesity policy to ensure that we’re removing barriers to care and treatment for communities disproportionately shouldering the burden of this disease,” Rios continued. “We urge the Senate and House to pass this legislation without delay.”

The bill was reintroduced by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana), Senator Tom Carper (D-Delaware), Representative Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Raul Ruiz (D-California). It has been introduced every session since 2013.

The Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease is an organization focused on eliminating barriers for care and treatment of obesity and other chronic conditions. The coalition has been calling on Congress and the Biden Administration to take action and improve obesity care for communities of color, particularly when it comes to health coverage of anti-obesity medications like Ozempic and Wegovy.

“Your Congress members, your federal government employees all have access to insurance coverage from the private insurance companies that they contract with to have access to medications. … The insurance programs for veterans also cover medications for obesity. So why can’t the civilian groups who are not working for Congress or the federal government [have access]?” Rios said in an interview. “I think the gap here is that the rest of the country should also have access to insurance that covers obesity medications.”

There is a high prevalence of obesity among adults from racial/ethnic minority communities, according to a recent white paper by the Council on Black Health, which is part of the Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease. For example, more than a third of Black adults live with obesity in 36 states and the District of Columbia, more than a third of American Indian/Alaska Native adults live with obesity in 31 states and more than a third of Hispanic adults live with obesity in 27 states and Guam.

Social factors are to blame for this, the white paper also showed. People in lower income areas have less access to healthy foods and outdoor spaces for exercise.

Medications like Ozempic and Wegovy have proven effective for weight loss, but are highly expensive without insurance. For example, Wegovy has a list price of more than $1,300 per packagewhich includes four pens.

Ultimately though, the coalition wants the federal government “to acknowledge that obesity is a disease and that it really needs more focus on the treatment of the disease,” Rios said. “There isn’t a continuum of care.”

The Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease isn’t the only organization calling for change either. The American Medical Association sent a letter to CMS in January asking for coverage of anti-obesity medications in Medicare Part D coverage. In April, Dr. Garfield Clunie, president of the National Medical Association, called out policymakers and insurers for not believing that obesity is a chronic disease.

Photo: Bet_Noire, Getty Images



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