December 2, 2015

Obesity-Related Health Issues Contribute to Medicaid Costs

A recent report in Health Affairs found that, in 2013, severe obesity in adults cost state Medicaid programs almost $8 billion. The researchers defined “severe obesity” as “having a body mass index (BMI) of 35.0 kg/m² or higher – meaning that the person is more than 100 pounds above a healthy body weight.” BMI is the ratio of a person’s mass to his or her height (see Table 1 for more information about BMI and weight status).

The report noted that overall obesity-related spending (both public and private) was generally higher for women than men, and it rose for both genders as they aged. According to the report, “compared to having moderate obesity [BMI 30.0-34.9], having severe obesity predicts having more than twice the obesity-attributable medical spending across all age groups and for both men and women.”

The report also puts the $8 billion Medicaid dollars spent on obesity into a larger context of almost $69 billion overall spent on obesity-related medical costs that year, of which $21 billion was paid by Medicare and other federal programs, $18 billion by private payers, and $22 billion by patients and other sources.

The report noted that only 26 states covered nutrition consultation and 10 states covered obesity-related drug therapy under their Medicaid programs, while 45 covered bariatric surgery. (Connecticut covers nutrition consultation and bariatric surgery in certain circumstances.)

As noted recently on NPR, the U.S. adult obesity rate remained virtually unchanged from 2011 to 2014 (about 36%). It seems unlikely that obesity-related medical costs will decrease if this trend continues.