Our healthcare system today fails to support obese patients with the needed help to fight their disease. This crisis has been worsening since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared obesity a disease almost a quarter-century ago. New CDC data shows that 30% of adults are dangerously overweight, and Black and Latino communities are alarmingly at risk.
In 36 states and DC, obesity rates are over 35% among Black adults, and 27 states reported rates over 35% among Hispanic adults. Obesity is an underlying factor and contributor to debilitating and deadly diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
Yet, despite the continuing – and growing – obesity epidemic and scientific evidence that it is a treatable disease, Medicare does not cover safe, FDA-approved anti-obesity medications. Until changes give patients access to all the available tools to fight their disease, millions will continue to suffer. Until 2013, obesity was treated as a “lifestyle” choice. We have come a long way since then, but more needs to be done. Late last year, the White House released its platform, outlining various ways to tackle obesity.
While it is clear that confronting obesity has become a priority for the administration, their suggested strategies fail to take into account all available medical interventions that have proven to work. In order to truly begin to confront this crisis, we must ensure accessibility to all of today’s modern therapeutic solutions. Holding up access to proven treatments like anti-obesity medications (AOMs) puts obese patients in jeopardy of potentially developing other diseases. Without the necessary treatments, we will be unable to halt the continued rise of the obesity rate, which is on pace to reach 50% by 2025.
AOMs have been available for years with proven clinical studies showing that they help lower individuals’ risk for developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. Not only that, but AOMs have also received acclaim from world-class health institutions like the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American Heart Association. Nevertheless, AOMs currently remain unavailable to many obese patients who need them the most since Medicare and many other insurance plans do not cover them. This leaves obese patients without access to one of the most effective treatments for their condition, ultimately harming public health in the process.
We have let obesity harm too many communities in America for too long. Even though we have come a long way since obesity was recognized as a disease, much more needs to be done. We need our congressional leaders to collaborate with the administration to provide AOMs as a standard benefits package under Medicare Part D. This will help millions of Americans who need access to these life-changing medications through Medicare.