DICKEY: It’s Time Medicare Offered Obese Americans Assistance

With the medical knowledge we possess today, continued inaction would be negligent

By James Dickey

AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Insider Report) — In 2003, President George W. Bush spearheaded a significant expansion of Medicare – the inclusion of prescription drug coverage. As we mark the 20-year milestone of this additional coverage, let's also contemplate what is still missing, and what the next two decades might require.
For many Texans struggling with excess weight, the missing puzzle piece is coverage for Anti-Obesity Medications (AOMs). Much has changed since 2003 in our understanding of and perspective on obesity.

In 2013, the American Medical Association acknowledged obesity as a disease requiring treatment and prevention. With nearly 42% of Americans grappling with obesity and its related risks – heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, mental health issues, and increased vulnerability to COVID-19 – it's a disease we can no longer afford to ignore.
We've made impressive strides in medicine, understanding both the biological and behavioral roots of obesity, and developed more effective treatments. Yet, while there are now FDA-approved AOMs, the cost is often prohibitive – an obstacle that can undermine accessibility for many.
Obesity is more than an individual health issue; it ripples across our society, even influencing national security. A 2022 report from the American Security Project revealed that nearly 77% of young Americans (17-24) were ineligible for military service, with obesity being the primary disqualifier.

The annual financial toll of obesity on our healthcare system is staggering – around $173 billion in 2019 – and providing affordable prescription coverage for those with obesity could substantially reduce these costs. Medicare has made meaningful progress in addressing obesity, offering no-cost obesity screenings, behavioral counseling, even coverage for bariatric surgery for those with higher BMIs.

As a conservative GOP activist, I had concerns about the expansion of Medicare to cover certain prescription drug benefits. But since Medicare covers invasive, costly surgeries, for obesity, it certainly should provide coverage for less intrusive and more affordable AOMs.

The provisions preventing such coverage are outdated, especially given the recognition of obesity as a serious health. It's clear that AOMs are legitimate medical treatments. It's high time our healthcare system provided equitable coverage.

Importantly, members of Congress recently reintroduced the Treat & Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) which attempts to expand Medicare to include coverage of AOMs. Senators and Representatives from both sides of the political aisle put forth this critical legislation, and all Americans should support policy such as this that offers improvements to us all.

It's not just about improving health; it's about empowering individuals to seize control of their future, for their good and the good of our tax dollars and our defense.

Efficiency, data, and wise spending should be the guiding principles of our healthcare system, ensuring everyone – regardless of their health issues – gets the support they need while also watching out for the taxpayer.

The current situation around obesity might be unintentional, but with the knowledge we possess today, continued inaction would be negligent.

As Senator and TROA bill author Bill Cassidy said, “There is a clear need to address obesity,” and, we must not avoid it any longer.

James Dickey is a former Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and a graduate of Ft. Worth’s Polytechnic High School.