Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Healthcare Reform: What Do We Do About Soaring Obesity Costs?

While it is great to hear of possible healthcare reform, I wonder how Congress feels about the topic of obesity. While I have no problem paying a slight surtax to help everyone get health insurance, like many others I would be quite upset to be paying for someone who is terribly obese, because the costs stemming from obesity are so high. In fact, in the USA, annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity have doubled in less than a decade. Currently, the costs of obesity in the US may be as high as $147 billion per year.

This number comes from a new study by researchers at RTI International, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The study, published on the Health Affairs' Web site, reports that, between 1998 and 2006, the prevalence of obesity (body mass index greater than 30) increased by 37 percent. That's a scary figure.

These results reveal that obesity is now responsible for 9.1 percent of annual medical expenditures, compared with 6.5 percent in 1998. The results also showed that an obese person has $1,429 per year more medical costs, or about 42 percent more costs, than someone of normal weight. Costs for an obese Medicare recipient are even greater. 8.5 percent of Medicare expenditures, 11.8 percent of Medicaid expenditures, and 12.9 percent of private payer expenditures are attributable to obesity.

This is why I think that healthcare reform has to consider the matter of obesity as one of the top targets for consumer education. It is a shame that healthy people of a normal weight would have to pick up the costs for those who have made the opposite lifestyle decisions.

"The medical costs attributable to obesity are almost entirely a result of costs generated from treating the diseases that obesity promotes. Thus, obesity will continue to impose a significant burden on the health care system as long as the prevalence of obesity remains high," said Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., director of RTI's Public Health Economics Program and the study's lead author.



Anonymous said...

How do you feel about paying the insurance cost for conditions related to smoking such as the inability to recover from back surgery, increased back and joint problems, not to mention heart and lung disease? I don't see that mentioned. And how about the increased costs for those who drink alcohol excessively?

Dave Jensen said...

I agree with you that smoking and alcohol both have their huge cost on our healthcare system. All three issues, obesity, smoking and drinking can be considered culture related, and probably will take decades to go away even if you could START to get the message out.