Just When We Thought We Were Making Progress

September 27th, 2009 by LHill Leave a reply »

July 30, 2009 :: By Morgan Downey

A couple of weeks ago the New Jersey Department of Health (so-called) decided to stop reimbursement of drugs for obesity and impotency from a program for the elderly designed to supplement the Medicare drug coverage program (Known as Medicare Part D, it excludes drugs for treating obesity.)

An article in NJ.com N.J. to cease coverage of impotency drugs for seniors enrolled in state prescription plan – NJ.com quotes the Department of Health spokesperson stating that “cosmetic drugs” that treat obesity, hair loss or minor skin conditions as well as vitamins and cold medicines will no longer be covered saving the cash-strapped state $3.3 million. Amazingly, the state AARP chair said it shouldn’t result in significant hardships for vulnerable adults. Doug Johnson said the state, “could have easily slashed vital health care programs and services that vulnerable adults depend on, but they did not.” (Some advocate for the elderly, eh?)

Weight loss in the elderly is important and achievable. The Diabetes Prevention Program found that older participants actually had greater weight loss and higher levels of physical activity than younger participants. The influence of age on the effects of lifestyle m…[J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2006] – PubMed Result. It may be that younger older persons from 65 years of age to 74 years have reduced stress from their careers, children may be grown, and they may see friends and family struggling with health problems. These may all motivate them to improve their health and it clearly benefits the Medicare program if diabetes or cardiovascular diseases related to obesity can be postponed or avoided.

We thought the old canard that obesity is a trivial, cosmetic problem was put to rest years ago. Even as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting a three day conference on obesity and even as Congress and the Administration, employers and insurers are grappling with approaches to prevention and treatment of obesity, we see two leading health care institutions throwing up the ‘cosmetic’ view of obesity. This comes, of course, on the heels of the American Medical Association declaring that persons with morbid obesity who cannot work should not be eligible for disability payments. We might expect such attitudes from people or institutions who did not know better but these are respected health organizations who are taking us backward not forward. If supposedly science-based organizations dedicated to improving individual and public health take these attitudes how can we expect the public to take the obesity problem seriously?