In 2013 Medicaid paid approximately eight million dollars to treat severe obesity, and the costs are rising. One in seven Americans are obese and estimates of obesity-related costs are $69 billion across all insurance providers. The researchers suggest that in order to reduce Medicaid costs associated with obesity, all states should focus on identifying effective obesity prevention methods and include obesity in Medicaid’s policies prior to its expansion.
The researchers analyzed data from over 117,000 Americans to estimate obesity-related state-level healthcare expenditures among the severely obese. They managed to estimate the extent to which obesity predicts higher medical expenses compared to individuals who are not obese.
Y Claire Wang, M.D., research lead, said, “Our estimate of Medicaid’s obesity-attributable expenditures is likely conservative since there is potential underreporting of data on healthcare utilization, which appear to be especially significant among Medicaid recipients.”
A moderately obese individual predicted an increase of $941 annually per capita in medical expenditures in comparison to those with a normal weight. For severe obesity, the cost increased $1,980.
Dr. Wang pointed out that the states with the highest obesity expenses were not necessarily the ones with the highest obesity rates. West Virginia, Mississippi, and Tennessee have high obesity rates but did not rank high in per capita spending. Dr. Wang added, “This is primarily because of the relatively low cost of healthcare in these states.”
Employers, too, face a challenge when it comes to obesity. Employers with obese workers see their employees calling in sick, on average, 40 percent more than those of normal weight. Dr. Wang suggested, “This exemplifies an incentive and an opportunity for health promotion by employers.”
Dr. Wang concluded, “In the past, U.S. clinicians have been more comfortable treating obesity-related health consequences such as high cholesterol and hypertension than delivering counseling and treatment for obesity. Filling the gaps in clinical training, human resources, and reimbursement is our challenge as the field expands capacity to tackle the demand for a variety of treatment approaches to obesity.”