March 21, 2007
SOURCE: InsuranceNewsNet, Inc.
Whether obesity itself should be classified as a disease is a sensitive matter. Some sectors argue that making obesity a disease takes away personal responsibility for the onset of the condition. Furthermore, they claim not all obese people are unhealthy. They also dispute the genetic angle because the genetic pool has remained the same during the past two decades when cases of obesity exploded. And now there is clearly a marked increase in obesity affecting the baby boomer generation which could take its toll on our economy.
Declaring obesity as a disease is not purely a medical issue - it is also an economic one. Insurance carriers would have to provide insurance coverage to millions who need treatment for weight problems if the condition was legally classified as an illness.
Steve Phurrough, director of the coverage and analysis group at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which will have the final word on the argument, ponders if the health care system should be obliged to pay for the price of losing weight. He said categorizing obesity as a disease would mean identifying treatments that should be medically covered. Phurrough is concerned that if exercise is recognized as a cure for obesity, it could be argued that Medicare should shoulder the cost of a Gold's Gym membership.
While the debate is going on, the momentum is on the side of those who claim it is a disease. In 2002, the Internal Revenue Service said obesity is a disease for tax purposes. That meant people could claim deductions for health expenses related to obesity in the same way as other people make claims for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes among others.
Disease or not, one thing is certain. Obesity is a major global public health problem. It has become so widespread The World Health Organization (WHO) calls it an epidemic.
In the US, the aging baby boomers are faced with this issue. In 2005, a study by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) revealed more boomers are suffering from obesity than the previous (“silent”) generation. BIDMC also observed that the condition developed at a younger age among boomers than in the silent generation.
Dr. Suzanne Leveille, senior author of the study, said that although the obesity epidemic has affected both baby-boomers and the silent generation, boomers got a much earlier start and spent more of their lives in a state of obesity.
Ironically, while boomers have access to better nutrition and information about exercise than the previous generation a forthcoming study to be published by National Bureau of Economic Research found that boomers report experiencing more pain, drinking and psychiatric problems. Boomers also complained of difficulty in carrying out everyday tasks such as climbing stairs, carrying more than 10 pounds as well as kneeling or crouching.
The impact of obesity on the health care economy is already being felt, according to the CDC, in the form of direct and indirect cost. Direct medical costs of obesity and health problems associated with it include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services.
The indirect costs come from income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, and bed days (morbidity costs) as well as the value of future income lost by premature death (mortality cost).
People suffering from obesity frequently have other conditions such as:
In 1998, the national costs from medical expenses linked to both overweight and obesity could have reached $78.5 billion - half of which were paid by Medicaid and Medicare.
At its current level, obesity is not something that can be remedied overnight. But boomers can do something about it on their own. Health experts advise exercising 3 to 4 times a week for half an hour each. Walking, biking, swimming and other aerobic exercise are highly recommended. No time for exercise? Consider the Minnesota Heart Clinic’s warning: You either make time for exercise or you will have to make time for illness.
No matter how you look at it, on both the national economy and personal level, the price of obesity is too high to ignore.
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