June 2014 Issue: Journal of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery

Passage of the “Patient Access to Evidence- Based Obesity Services” resolution by the American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest physician group, should help in the fight to improve patient access to evidence-based obesity treatments including metabolic and bariatric surgery, intensive behavioral counseling, and FDA-approved obesity drugs.

In a news release after the AMA resolution was passed, ASMBS president Ninh T. Nguyen, MD, said, “Obesity is perhaps the most undertreated disease in America despite the availability of safe and effective treatments. This is largely because insurance coverage is so limited. With this latest resolution, the drum beat for greater access and coverage is growing louder and we are hopeful that public and private insurers and policy makers are listening and will take quick action.”

The new resolution, which was passed without opposition, comes nearly a year after the AMA officially designated obesity a disease. The resolution states, “Resolved that our AMA, consistent with H-440.842 Recognition of Obesity as a Disease, work in concert with national specialty and state medical societies to advocate for patient access to the full continuum of care of evidence-based obesity treatment modalities (such as behavioral, pharmaceutical, psychosocial, nutritional, and surgical interventions).”

Currently, only 22 of 50 states list bariatric surgery as a covered benefit within the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and only five states provide coverage for weight loss programs.

John Morton, MD, MPH, ASMBS President-Elect explained that the specific exclusion of obesity treatment in the ACA state health exchanges is unusual and in conflict with the ACA’s own stated statute that state health exchanges may not exclude treatment on the basis of a health condition. In addition, many private health insurers, employers and state health plans maintain exclusions on obesity treatment.

“The AMA’s support of treatment for individuals with obesity underscores the national imperative to treat our leading public health problem. The time has come for equitable treatment for the millions of patients affected by obesity. There needs to be one America where treatment for obesity is available to all,” Dr. Morton commented in the ASMBS news release about the AMA resolution.

The ASMBS, American College of Surgeons (ACS), The Obesity Society (TOS), Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), American Society of Bariatric Physicians (ASBP), Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, Society for Vascular Surgery, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and American Urological Association all helped support the passage of the AMA resolution.

The AMA resolution was passed on Wednesday, the same day the ASMBS was afforded a seat in the AMA House of Delegates (HOD). HOD, which includes more than 500 voting delegates, is the principal policymaking body of the AMA.
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