Insurance coverage questions arise after obesity classification

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT)- The American Medical Association will now recognize obesity as a disease. The organization made the decision Tuesday at the group's annual meeting.

Experts say recognizing obesity as a disease is a way to get more medical attention and insurance coverage for procedures. About a third of adults in the U.S. are obese, which is about 35 pounds over a healthy weight.

This decision could spur positive changes whenit comes to paying for procedures. 

"There aremany patients that are unable to get their surgery to help their obesity justbecause of funds," said Kristen Brewer, bariatric coordinator at NEA Baptist.  Bariatric deals with the causes, prevention and treatment of obesity.  

"If they arean 100 pounds overweight you are looking at something more serious and morechronic," Brewer said. "If theirbody mass index is 40 then they are 100 pounds or more overweight."

Prior to the announcement, theAMA referred to obesity as a majorpublic health problem. Brewer says some patients go into debt just trying topay for the weight loss procedures.

"I've hadpatients in the past that told me they've had to sell three cars just to havethe surgery," she said. "Many peopleget a big loan from the bank that they really don't have the funds to do butthey need the surgery so badly."

Brewer saysthey are a lot of factors to consider when diagnosing obesity.

"What istheir weight, what is their height, do they actually classify as morbidobesity, are they really overweight and what are the causes of this," Brewer said.

With this recentchange, Brewer says she hopes insurance companies will help make a positive impacton patients.

"If they cansee the costs savings for their insurance company with just this one thing ofweight loss it's going to have a positive impact," she said.

"Now that it'sbeing classified as a disease hopefully it will be talked about more."

Medicarepays for obesity screenings of patients with a body mass index of 30 or more.

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