Wellness plans lack obesity treatment optionsNews added by Benefits Pro on November 20, 2013
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By Dan Cook

If your boss told you he’d give you a raise if you made more sales calls a month, and then limited your sales calls to your current monthly average, would you feel a bit frustrated?

Of course you would.

So how do you think employees with weight issues feel when their employers tell them they need to lose weight, but won’t include the best weight-reduction treatments in their health plan?

This anomaly is happening often in Corporate America, according to a study by The Obesity Action Coalition and ConscienHealth, an obesity resource provider.

“Wellness programs are commonly setting weight goals for employees, but most often they are paired with employer health plans denying coverage for evidence-based obesity treatment,” the researchers said.

The study was a big one — taking input from more than 5,000 employees required to participate in wellness programs in order to get full health benefits. Here’s the sort of feedback obtained by the interviewers:
  • 67 percent of employees required to take part in an employer’s wellness plan to get full health coverage are required to meet weight-related wellness goals;
  • but 59 percent of plans don’t cover obesity treatment (fitness training, registered dietitian counseling, obesity drugs, or bariatric surgery) — although the employers who sponsor the plans usually set weight/diet/exercise goals for employees.
Of those who had to participate in a wellness plan to obtain full coverage, respondents said their employers set the following goals:
  • 41 percent set goals for weight;
  • 38 percent set goals for blood pressure;
  • 36 percent set goals for exercise;
  • 35 percent set goals for cholesterol;
  • 25 percent set goals for diet.
Of the 59 percent who said their plan did not cover treatments that would help them manage their weight, here’s what was not covered:
  • 22 percent fitness training
  • 14 percent dietician
  • 11 percent weight loss clinic
  • 9 percent weight loss surgery
  • 8 percent weight loss drugs
In other words, it would appear that the data indicates that most plans that require participation and set goals do offer an array of supportive options for those looking to lose weight — just not the full array in every instance.

But the Obesity Action Coalition and ConscienHealth argue that wellness plans must go above and beyond the basics in order to address the runaway obesity problem in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, it seems that a growing number of employers figured out that carefully crafted weight or body mass index (BMI) requirements can also be an effective way of making it harder for people with obesity to enjoy the full benefits of healthcare coverage, saving short-term costs while hurting employees,” said Ted Kyle of ConscienHealth. “Our study shows how some programs can amount to a subterfuge for discrimination. All too often, a wellness plan that sets weight goals for employees is paired with a health plan that denies coverage for evidence-based obesity treatments. By doing this, an employer risks alienating more than a third of its employees.”

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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