Tonawanda News

Features

July 10, 2012

Panel urges insurers to cover weight-loss plans

— Eat less, exercise more. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. If weight loss were easy, obesity rates among adults in the United States probably wouldn't have reached the current 36 percent.

 Recently revised guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force acknowledge that fact. They recommend that clinicians screen patients for obesity, which is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher. Further, they say patients who meet or exceed that level should be offered or referred to "intensive, multicomponent behavioral interventions" to help them lose weight.

 The revised guidelines strengthen the previous recommendations, says David Grossman, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute in Seattle and a member of the task force.

  For the millions of people who struggle to lose weight, the new guidelines offer much-needed support. It's unclear whether employers and insurers will welcome the change, though.

 Under the 2010 health-care law, new health plans and those whose benefits change enough to lose their grandfathered status must provide services recommended by the Preventive Services Task Force at no cost to members. For the 70 percent of employers that already offer weight management programs, that may mean just supplementing what they already offer, says Russell Robbins, a senior clinical consultant at Mercer, a human resources consulting firm.

 But some employers are concerned they may be on the hook for ongoing treatment as employees make repeated attempts to lose weight.

  "From a financial standpoint, the guidelines are pretty broad and pretty extensive," says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health, which represents the interests of large firms. "Does this mean that employers and the government will be paying for up to 26 intense visits every year for every obese person for the rest of their lives?"

 A Health and Human Services HHS official said the department is evaluating whether to issue additional guidance on the new rules.

 Insurers will be working to determine how best to satisfy the recommendations, says Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group.

 "I think the real question is making sure there are programs that fulfill these requirements," she says.

   According to the task force, effective weight-loss programs involve 12 to 26 group or individual sessions over the course of a year that cover multiple behavioral management techniques. These may include setting weight-loss goals and strategizing about how to maintain lifestyle changes, incorporating exercise and eating a more healthful diet, and learning to address the psychological and other barriers that create roadblocks to weight loss. The task force found that people in these programs generally lost nine to 15 pounds in the first year.

 The task force said there wasn't enough evidence to determine whether such interventions worked for people who were overweight but not obese.

   A number of existing programs provide the kind of care that the guidelines recommend, say experts.

  Weight Watchers, for example, runs 20,000 meetings a week around the country where people discuss their weight-loss challenges and successes and get pointers on losing weight and keeping it off.

 At $42.95 a month for access to group meetings and online food tracking and other tools, however, it's not an option for many people with limited incomes, who make up a disproportionate share of the obese. Some employers subsidize their employees' membership in the program. Under the new guidelines, insurers and employers could be responsible for paying 100 percent of the cost.

  Other programs have also been successful. Two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with UnitedHealth Group and the YMCA, launched the National Diabetes Prevention Program for people at high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.

   The program is based on a study in which participants who learned to eat more healthfully and exercised at least 150 minutes a week lost 5 to 7 percent of their weight and reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent.

  The program is offered by many YMCAs and other groups. It offers each participant 16 weekly group weight-loss sessions followed by six monthly sessions. It's a covered benefit for people with UnitedHealthcare or Medica insurance; others pay based on a sliding scale, says Ann Albright, director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation. CDC is working with Medicaid and Medicare to try to get it covered by those programs, says Albright.

  John Joseph IV tipped the scales at 203 and had a BMI of 28.3 when he paid $150 to join the program at the YMCA near his Birmingham, Ala., home. In the four months since then, the 34-year-old, who runs a job-coaching business for college grads, has dropped 17 pounds.

  At the weekly group meetings, he learned to count the fat grams in food and to make smarter food choices. Now he eats fewer cookies and more flounder. He started an exercise program and runs or lifts weights for 30 minutes three times a week.

  "I thought, if I can do this, it will give me the infrastructure and habits so I can get to the mid-170s, which is where I want to be," he says.

Losing weight is hard, but keeping it off may be harder.

 In 2009, Gayenell Magwood lost 100 pounds with the help of the weight management center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

But after health problems curtailed her exercise routine for a few months, her weight crept up to 170, a gain of nearly 20 pounds. Magwood, 49, who lives in North Charleston and is a researcher in the College of Nursing at MUSC, went through the 15-week program all over again, at a cost of about $600. She lost the weight she had regained.

 Before enrolling in the MUSC program, "I'd never once been successful with significant weight loss," she says.

               

This column is produced through a collaboration between The Post and Kaiser Health News. KHN, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health-care-policy organization that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

bc-health-weight

    

WASHINGTON POST-BLOOMBERG--07-09-12 1434EDT



 

1
Text Only
Features
  • SUN LIFE Volunteers honored 1 040614.jpg Women Who Move the City (and beyond)

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • SUN LIFE POUND 1040614j jpg.jpg Rock n' roll fitness

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • sig - crib notes RGB Enough of this winter -- it's time for spring

    Midway through separating the bits of dog food from the shredded paper towel pieces on the saturated bed sheet that had been strewn across the dining-room table, I finally realized I’d had enough.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • sig - critter companions RGB Dear readers, it's me, Kenny

    I have bad knees. I have been told to blame my grandmother. I have also been told to blame her for my love of animals. Today, we celebrate the 100th Critter Companions column.

    April 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • SUN LIFE mummies 1 033014.jpg 'Mummies of the World' exhibit arrives in Buffalo

    As visitors arrived for the recent NCAA basketball tournament games in Buffalo, a much older group of visitors arrived via motorcade at the Buffalo Museum of Science — but these newcomers to the Queen City wouldn’t be seeking out a place to have a beer between games or where to find the region’s best chicken wings.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • sig - double trouble RGB Years later, still spending sunny days on Sesame Street

    I always knew we’d hit “the Elmo years.”

    Going into parenthood, it seemed like a given. Both my husband and I  were “Sesame Street” fans from childhood ourselves, and we were happy enough to pass it on to a new generation. And we knew, having friends with children of the applicable age, that in this day and age “Sesame Street” equalled Elmo, the squeaky-voiced “furry red menace” (thus dubbed by Oscar the Grouch) of parents everywhere.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • SUN LIFE Local Restaurant Week 2 033014.jpg Back for another bite

    As spring finally starts to unfold in Western New York, residents are likely eager to get out of their houses — and organizers of Local Restaurant Week hope they’ll consider eating out as they do that.

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wineries invite visitors to take a Taste of the Trail

    If one weekend of food and wine pairings is a good thing, two weekends of food and wine pairings must be even better.

    For the first time, the Taste of the Trail event, which takes place Friday through April 6 and April 11 to 13 on the Niagara Wine Trail, will be split into two weekends, with half the trail’s wineries taking part the first weekend and half the second, said Elizabeth Maute, wine trail coordinator.

    March 31, 2014

  • sig - critter companions RGB CRITTER COMPANIONS: Rewards for playing nice

    March 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • SUN LIFE signs of spring 1 032314.jpg Region's favorite signs of spring gear up for season

    Ah, the signs of spring: The birdsong, the flowers, the green grass, the flowing waters of the Erie Canal or Niagara River ... and the words “Opening soon” on the marquee of your favorite seasonal business.

    March 24, 2014 1 Photo