I attended the STOP Obesity Alliance press conference on May 22, 2008, in Washington, D.C. During the conference a new strategy to reduce obesity rates was announced — which provides employers with an obesity management benefit for their employees. I asked Carl Graziano, the vice president of communications for DMAA: The Care Continuum Alliance, to explain what this new benefit is and how it works. (DMAA was formerly known as the Disease Management Association of America.)
Dr. Val: How does the DMAA “prototype obesity benefit” work?
Graziano: The prototype is just that — a suggested approach based on the best available evidence on effective obesity interventions. While we provide a template for possible covered services and suggested pricing, it will be up to individual end users to tailor this benefit to their particular budgets, corporate cultures and values. Generally, we recommend three tiers of coverage, starting with enhanced primary care services, nutritional counseling and pharmaceuticals. A second tier would add treatment by an obesity specialist, and a third level would provide coverage for bariatric surgery and associated supporting services. Plan participants could be subject to an additional premium and co-payments for these services, as with other “riders,” such as vision and dental benefits.
Dr. Val: Which employers are planning to offer this benefit?
Graziano: We’re pleased to have the support of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which will consider our benefit approach as it develops coverage for its members. We expect that as experience with the benefit design and awareness grows, other employers will tailor it to their specific needs. As the STOP Obesity Alliance survey shows, while most employers believe in the appropriateness of obesity-related services, less than half say their companies devote enough attention to the problem of obesity. We believe this reflects a lack of guidance on how to provide obesity benefits, and that’s why we developed our suggested approach.
Dr. Val: What can people do to make sure that their employer offers this benefit or something similar?
Graziano: Because this benefit prototype will be freely available from and promoted by DMAA, we expect growing awareness of it among benefits managers over the next year — both through their own efforts to stay current on benefit design trends and recommendations from employees and others.
Dr. Val: How do we know that this program works? What outcomes have you demonstrated so far?
Graziano: Designing a formal approach to obesity benefits is largely uncharted territory, which is precisely the reason why DMAA saw a need to initiate research in this area. That said, our benefit design is strongly rooted in the best available evidence that interventions deliver high-value, positive outcomes. We are breaking new ground here, but we believe the benefit’s value-based approach offers the best chance of positive clinical and financial outcomes in a real-world setting.
Dr. Val: What’s the most important aspect that the public should know about the DMAA obesity benefit?
Graziano: It’s important that the public understand that personal behavior — eating healthfully, exercising and making other lifestyle changes — is essential to the success of any overweight or obesity intervention. While our benefit approach may ultimately contribute to new and expanded care options for the overweight and obese — a change that’s much needed in the face of a growing obesity epidemic — the commitment of plan participants to these interventions will play a large part in reversing the overweight and obesity trend.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.