The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that screening for obesity and obesity counseling services will soon be covered. An estimated 30 percent of Medicare recipients are obese according to the CMS, and the prevalence is increasing.
Patients who have a BMI of 30.0 or higher will be eligible for one face-to-face visit with their primary care practitioner per week for the first month of their treatment, and a visit every other week for the next five months. At this point, patients who have lost at least 6.6 pounds will be eligible for a monthly visit for another six months. Patients who have not lost this minimum requirement are asked to wait six months before reassessing their readiness to lose weight.
This measure is a big step towards reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States, because the absence of reimbursement for weight loss counseling has often been cited as an impediment to effectively treating obesity. However, some worry that primary care physicians do not have enough training in nutrition and behavior modification. This is highlighted by recent studies that found Weight Watchers to be more effective than doctor’s care. An ideal solution might be to pair regular doctors visits with a proven weight-loss system such as Weight Watchers, but such a plan would be costly for the CMS to implement.
Despite these concerns, giving patients the option to seek medical weight management treatment has the potential to reduced a host of health problems that are caused by obesity or exacerbated by it. “This decision is an important step in aligning Medicare’s portfolio of preventive services with evidence and addressing risk factors for disease,” CMS chief medical officer Patrick Conway stated in the announcement.