Melissa Moss, after trying unsuccessfully to lose weight by dieting, eventually managed to take off 45 pounds. The key was enrolling in a program that provided behavioral and nutrition counseling, a physician-supervised low-calorie liquid diet and group therapy.
But The Washington Post reported that Moss, 24, an accountant in Washington, D.C., who earns $15 an hour, was left with more than $4,000 in credit card debt that she ran up paying for the program, which her insurer refused to cover.
“Insurance companies say they want you to be healthy, but they won’t pay for treatment,” said Moss, who was urged by her doctor to lose weight. “It’s frustrating that they want you to be as sick and disabled as possible before they will help.”
That problem, the Post said, is common to millions of Americans battling fat whose insurers refuse to pay for obesity treatments but cover the expensive health consequences of the extra weight.
With obesity on the rise — two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese — a few insurers have begun in recent years to pay for some weight loss options. A spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade association, said that the practice was not yet widespread because data about what works have “only emerged in the last few years. Obesity is definitely an evolving area.”
In fact, a team of George Washington University researchers reported in a recent study that many states allow insurers to charge obese patients higher premiums or deny coverage of the condition. Meanwhile, they also found that only eight state Medicaid programs cover all of the following treatments: assessment and counseling, drug therapy and surgery to combat obesity.
Some changes may be coming soon, however. Provisions in the new health care overhaul law that take effect Thursday will require insurers to cover obesity screening and behavioral counseling by physicians. Key details, however, remain to be worked out.