Employers play a critical role in obesity care

Obesity and its associated chronic diseases continue to threaten the health of individuals as well as the U.S. population. While approximately 40 percent of Americans have been diagnosed with obesity, a combined 70 percent is affected by obesity and/or overweight. In addition to personal costs of obesity on quality of life, medical costs also continue to rise and impact the U.S. healthcare system.

Yet in a recent commentary on obesity care and tackling the obesity epidemic, the National Academy of Sciences (NAM) highlights the unique role of employers and healthcare providers in supporting employees who struggle with their weight. We outlined a brief summary of the commentary below, but the full version can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.

First, Change Obesity Perspectives

The 2013 classification of obesity as a disease shows us that it results from a combination of contributing factors and not an issue of personal choice and responsibility:

  • Genetics and Biology
  • Behavior and Psychology
  • Community environment

These factors point to a greater need for more comprehensive and personalized patient care that makes way for new prevention, treatment and maintenance practices in clinical settings and beyond. Current best practices for obesity care call for the use of the complete care continuum encompassing:

  • Improved understanding of nutrition
  • Improved understanding of activity
  • Effective learning and behavior modification strategies
  • Medication management (pharmacotherapy)
  • Bariatric surgery and procedure approaches

But for patients to access help from the complete care continuum, healthcare plans (including those from employers) and insurance coding must improve to include obesity management and facilitate billing and reimbursement of services, as well as ineffective payment models.

Additionally, employers, individuals and providers must work together to confront weight stigma and encourage patients to seek help when they need it – which also means devoting more time to patients and educating themselves on obesity.

The Critical Role of Employers

Though 85 percent of organizations with 1,001 – 10,000 employees have created wellness programs to help workers improve or maintain a healthy lifestyle, more can be done to engage employees via a deeper and more holistic approach.

NAM and emerging research suggests that it’s time for a fresh approach to addressing obesity in the workforce to better support employees. This approach includes:

  • Looking at obesity as a disease, viewing it in a similar manner to how employers see other chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
  • Enacting a combination of wellness programs and policies.
  • Developing a culture that reduces stigma and promotes a more inclusive and positive environment for all employees.
  • Addressing health data challenges and re-evaluating benefit design approaches so employees can better navigate the healthcare system and prioritize their health.

My Healthy Weight Initiative: Moving in the Right Direction

One emerging employer approach to addressing obesity is the My Healthy Weight Initiative (MHW). Spearheaded by a task-force consisting of employers, insurers, state Medicaid plans and other stakeholders, it seeks to align employers’ obesity benefit offerings to offer more consistent coverage across insurance benefit designs that will:

  • Create a consistent set of reimbursable services that will increase the likelihood of primary care providers referring patients to additional services.
  • Encourage screening and follow-up visits.
  • Develop community and evidence-based wellness programs.
  • Commit to engage employees around obesity prevention and treatment.

Benefits offered by My Healthy Weight are a step in the right direction, but more can be done for employers to effectively address obesity in their employees such as: adjusting payment structures to lower the cost of high-deductible health plans; reducing or eliminating co-pays; empowering employees with current knowledge and skills to better manage their obesity; and provider training to treat obesity and understand its relationship to associated diseases.

For more employer suggestions and to read the full commentary from NAM, CLICK HERE.

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