Medicare May Begin Covering Obesity Treatments

The Department of Health and Human Services has announced it will remove language from Medicare's coverage manual that states that obesity is not a disease.

While this does not mean the Medicare program now considers obesity to be a disease, it does mean that the program will contemplate paying for therapies to treat obesity, such as stomach surgery, diet programs, and behavioral and psychological counseling. The announcement "opens the door to what is expected to be a flood of applications from individuals, doctors and companies for Medicare to begin paying for therapies," writes The Washington Post.

Currently, 37 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are overweight and 18 percent are obese, according to the American Obesity Association. Between 1991 and 1998, the prevalence of obesity among people between the ages of 60 and 69 rose 45 percent.

Still not all are convinced that Medicare's change in policy is warranted. Paul F. Campos of the University of Colorado, author of a book titled The Obesity Myth, said the decision was irrational, given that being underweight is more of a health problem for the elderly than being overweight.

"It's not just a bad idea -- it's completely unscientific," Campos said. "We're in the grip of a kind of out-of-control cultural hysteria on this issue that leads to really irrational social decisions, such as making obesity a disease among the elderly."

While calling the decision a "partial" improvement, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "This is illustrative of the problem we have with Medicare. If you've got a problem, we'll fix you. Medicare should have programs to prevent obesity."

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