Insurers launch more anti-obesity programs

As the obesity epidemic increasingly garners nationwide attention and calls for action, insurers have been responding by changing coverage options, as well as establishing new anti-obesity programs and incentives.

The latest attempt to motivate insurers came from the Institute of Medicine, which recently published a report, highlighting that more than 90 million children, teens and adults are obese. The report discusses how obesity-related medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and arthritis, exceed $190 billion in healthcare costs, according to a Kaiser Health News/Washington Post article.

Although insurers historically haven't covered obesity screening and counseling, the reform law requires that they provide free preventive care, including for obesity-related services. Now, insurers must determine the best evidence-based programs to be applied on a broader, nationwide scale.

"Is there coverage [for obesity] is yesterday's conversation," Karen Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans, told KHN. "Today's conversation is how to design coverage to encourage people to use it and continue using it."

UnitedHealth, for example, is considering offering a version of the Diabetes Prevention Program, which is an intensive weight-loss intervention, for overweight and obese adults. "Doctors are in short supply," so the insurer wants to introduce intensive behavioral change programs through the community rather than doctor offices, Deneen Vojta, senior vice president of UnitedHealth's Center for Health Reform & Modernization, told KHN.

Meanwhile, WellPoint has begun working with doctors and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which lobbies insurers to offer more obesity-related coverage. It also launched a pilot study of obesity coverage in California, hoping to determine doctors' and members' preferences related to its services before rolling out coverage more broadly.

Other insurers are considering using financial incentives, including cash payments, reduced premiums or deductibles, to motivate members to maintain a healthy weight. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began offering $20,000 when state residents suggest anti-obesity program ideas, FierceHealthPayer previously reported. And Kaiser Permanente of Colorado's "Weigh and Win" program awards members between $15 and $150 every three months for losing and maintaining weight, according to a prior FierceHealthPayer article.

To learn more:
- see the IOM obesity report
- read the Kaiser Health News/Washington Post article

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