THE ROLE OF THE INSURANCE INDUSTRY

It takes a village to prevent and treat obesity, said Bradley, and one member of that village is the insurance industry. Bradley divided the industry’s progress as it relates to obesity into four areas.

The first involves benefits for the treatment of obesity in health care settings. BCBSNC has been offering benefits for physician assessment, referral, and treatment of obesity for about a decade. It also has offered nutritional counseling at no cost during the same period. Particularly helpful have been the synergies created with worksites, said Bradley, because the worksite can direct people to the medical benefits available to them.

The second area of progress encompasses health programs. Hospitals, clinics, primary care physicians, and other health care providers have used a variety of models to work with severely obese patients, although these efforts are still sporadic and expensive. An area in which progress has been good is bariatric surgery, Bradley noted, and BCBSNC has worked with bariatric centers of excellence to reduce complication rates and augment success.

The third area entails community impact. The BCBSNC Foundation has funded a number of activities in this area, such as farm-to-school programs, nutrition education for child care workers, and bicycle commuting programs.

Finally, the insurance industry has provided thought leadership. For example, it has demonstrated that providing benefits for the treatment of obesity is not particularly expensive. BCBSNC covers six nutrition visits a year at no cost, but the average number of visits is only about two. “We will not go broke for two nutrition visits a year,” said Bradley. “It is not a service of abuse.”

Bradley also listed five potential breakthroughs in fighting obesity:

  • provider education, training, and teamwork;
  • patient engagement;
  • addressing obesity throughout life, from breastfeeding to treatment of severe obesity;
  • safe environments for physical activity, which is determined by society as much as by the health care system; and
  • better nutritional choices.

Providers of care are not just physicians, nurses, nutritionists, and pharmacists, Bradley emphasized. They include parents, grandparents, child care providers, teachers, pharmacists, ministers, insurers, politicians, and policy makers. All need education, training, and engagement. Today, they tend not



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