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Kidney patients are keenly aware of the health risks associated with obesity: diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease are all associated with obesity and are also the top three risk-factors for kidney disease. We know that for many patients weight management is a health priority, and especially for transplant patients, their treatment may require that they maintain a certain weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of adults in the US have obesity, and almost 50% for Black Americans and 45% of Hispanic Americans have obesity.
Obesity is negatively impacting patients’ lives. It’s also costing the US healthcare system billions of dollars. In 2019, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion. Medical costs for adults who had obesity were $1,861 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight.
Removing Barriers to Treatment
We know that weight management is related to many chronic conditions, but a 2003 rule has prevented Medicare from covering drugs to treat obesity. This was initially for a good reason. Many weight-loss drugs in the early 2000s weren’t highly regarded. They were not particularly effective, and in some cases were even dangerous.
In recent years, new anti-obesity medications (AOMs) have been shown to be safe and effective, prompting a call to review this 2003 law.
Thankfully, a bipartisan group of lawmakers have introduced the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2023 (TROA), which would cover these new AOMs under Medicare Part D, making them available to all Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Those kidney champions include:
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)
Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA)
Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA)
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
This bipartisan bill (H.R. 4818 / S. 2407) would also expand which health care providers can bill Medicare for intensive behavioral therapy related to obesity to include clinical psychologists, registered dietitians, or nutrition professionals if the patient is referred to these new health care providers by a physician.
Congressional Support Building
Thanks to the advocacy of the patient community, the bill is gaining momentum. Last month the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee included TROA as part of its hearing on “Examining Policies to Improve Seniors’ Access to Innovative Drugs, Medical Devices, and Technology. NKF is proud to partner with a broad coalition of leading patient organizations, including the Obesity Care Advocacy Network and the American Diabetes Association, to support this bill.
In her message to lawmakers, Illinois-based Voices for Kidney Health advocate Nancy S. noted that her 36-year-old friend is in kidney failure with a living donor committed to helping her get a transplant. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible until she loses weight, and as of now weight loss pharmaceuticals like AOMs are not readily available to her. On behalf of every kidney patient struggling with this issue, we’ll continue to push federal lawmakers to support and pass TROA and help more members of the kidney community get access to the care they urgently need.
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