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Medicare & Medicaid News

Few senior citizens benefiting from Medicare obesity counseling

Affordable Care Act added Medicare benefit offering face-to-face weight-loss counseling to 13 million obese seniors in the U.S.

Sarah VarneyFebruary 23, 2015

Dr. Mylene Middleton RuckerFeb. 23, 2015 - In the farming town of Exeter, deep in California’s Central Valley, Anne Roberson walks a quarter mile down the road each day to her mailbox. Her walk and housekeeping chores are the 68-year-old’s only exercise, and her weight has remained stubbornly over 200 pounds for some time now.

“You get to a certain point in your life and you say, ‘What’s the use?’”

For older adults, being mildly overweight causes little harm, physicians say. But too much weight is especially hazardous for an aging body: Obesity increases inflammation, exacerbates bone and muscle loss and significantly raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Dr. Mylene Middleton Rucker, a primary care physician in Visalia, Calif., is using the new obesity counseling benefit with her patients, but many doctors aren’t aware of it yet. (Sarah Varney/KHN)

To help the 13 million obese seniors in the U.S., the Affordable Care Act included a new Medicare benefit offering face-to-face weight-loss counseling in primary care doctors’ offices. Doctors are paid to provide the service, which is free to obese patients , with no co-pay. But only 50,000 seniors participated in 2013, the latest year for which data is available.

 

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“We think it’s the perfect storm of several factors,” says Dr. Scott Kahan, an obesity medicine specialist at George Washington University. Kahan says obese patients and doctors aren’t aware of the benefit, and doctors who want to intervene are often reluctant to do so. It’s a touchy subject to bring up, and some hold outmoded beliefs about weight problems and the elderly.

“It used to be thought that older patients don’t respond to treatment for obesity as well as younger patients,” Kahan says. “People assume that they couldn’t exercise as much or for whatever reason they couldn’t stick to diets as well. But we’ve disproven that.”

svarney@kff.org | @SarahVarney4

Some of this information is reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery. © Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

 

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