Lifestyle & Belief

Medicare to cover obesity counseling


Registered nurse Susan Eager treats a patient suffering from obesity-related illnesses while performing a home health care visit in Denver, Colo., on Feb. 24, 2010.


John Moore

Medicare will now fully cover screening and weight loss counseling sessions for Medicare beneficiaries who are obese, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has announced.

In a memo, CMS argued that behavioral therapy was "reasonable and necessary" to prevent illness or disability among individuals with a body mass index of 30 kg/m2 or greater, Family Practice News reported.

“Obesity is a challenge faced by Americans of all ages, and prevention is crucial for the management and elimination of obesity in our country," CMS Administrator Donald Berwick said in a news release, USA Today reported. "It's important for Medicare patients to enjoy access to appropriate screening and preventive services."

CMS officials said they expect more than 30 percent of Medicare recipients to qualify for the co-payment-free services, ABC News reported.

According to USA Today:

The new Medicare benefits will include face-to-face counseling every week for one month, then one counseling appointment every other week for the following five months for people who screen positive for obesity. If the person continues to lose weight, he or she may continue face-to-face counseling every month for six additional months.

Some health policy experts are skeptical that the new coverage will have much of an impact. “If people are obese when they reach old age, they probably have a lifetime of bad habits that will be difficult to break,” Robert Field of Drexel University in Philadelphia told MedPage Today and ABC News.

Other preventive services that don’t require co-pays from Medicare recipients include an annual checkup; tobacco cessation counseling; certain immunizations; and screening for bone density, cervical cancer, cholesterol, colorectal cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, HIV, and prostate cancer, according to Family Practice News.