Max Baucus

John F. Kennedy once said, “We must promote–to the best of our ability and by all possible and appropriate means–the mental and physical health of all our citizens.”  During my career in public service, I looked for opportunities to improve the health of Montanans and Americans. Today Congress has an opportunity to address a growing new epidemic affecting the health of millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds.

Obesity today is a common, serious, and costly disease impacting an estimated 42 percent of adult Americans. More than a third of all adults over age 60 have obesity. Obesity increases the risk for over 200 chronic diseases and conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Simply put, obesity is a rising health epidemic in the United States. Despite the growing consensus in the scientific and medical communities, many policymakers and society as a whole, continue to view obesity predominately as a lifestyle choice or personal failure. Not as a disease. However, it’s becoming clear that obesity is not just a lifestyle choice. It’s a chronic, progressive disease with severe consequences.

I love a challenge. I believe that the obesity epidemic is a challenge we must address. Obesity is a disease that can be treated with ever-advancing anti-obesity medications (AOM). It’s not the only prescription but it’s one that should be available. There’s just one problem for many Americans affected by obesity: Medicare does not cover AOMs.

While Medicare covers treatments for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, it fails to acknowledge the efficacy and importance of AOMs in addressing obesity. This discrimination perpetuates the stigma surrounding obesity, treating it as a lifestyle choice rather than a medical condition. Obesity-related healthcare costs in the United States surpass $147 billion each year, with Medicare bearing a substantial burden.

Providing coverage for AOMs can significantly reduce healthcare expenditures in the long run. Numerous studies have shown that effective obesity treatment improves health outcomes, reduces hospitalizations, and decreases overall healthcare costs.

There is legislation recently introduced in the current Congress that would eliminate Medicare’s twenty-year-old discriminatory prohibition on covering anti-obesity medications.  The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) aims to remove the ban on Medicare coverage for AOMs, allowing beneficiaries to access these life-changing medications.

It’s my experience that nothing of consequence happens without both sides working together.  The obesity epidemic is an issue that both sides of the aisle in congress can agree on.

Let’s do the right thing and pass the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. Congress must eliminate Medicare’s biased prohibition on AOM coverage. By recognizing obesity as a treatable chronic disease and providing access to evidence-based medications, along with other therapies, we can make significant progress in addressing this epidemic. It will improve our healthcare system and economy and lead to a healthier future for folks across Montana and the United States.

Max Baucus is a former US Senator and Ambassador to China.  He is Montana’s longest serving US Senator, having served 5 terms from 1978-2014.  He writes from Bozeman.