Weight Loss Therapy a Bargain for Medicare

Emory Professor, Kenneth Thorpe, examines the costs of treating obesity-related conditions and found medications that help Medicare enrollees lose weight could save money for Medicare in the long term.

Permanent weight loss of 10 to 15% will yield $9,445 to $15,987 in gross per capita savings throughout their lifetime, and $8,070 to $13,474 over ten years. Similarly, initial weight loss of 10 to 15% followed by 90% weight regain will result in gross per capita savings of $7,556 to $11,109 over their lifetime, and $6,456 to $8,911 over ten years. Targeting weight loss medications to adults with obesity (BMI ≥ 30) produces greater savings to the Medicare program.

Comments (10)

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  1. Studebaker says:

    I’ve read that the relationship between obesity and high medical costs has been overblown. By the time an obese person reaches Medicare age, I wonder if damage done by their lifestyle behaviors is irreversible?

    Something else I’ve often thought about. Lap band surgery is less than $9,000 in some cases. If you could truly go from a woman’s size 30 to a size 10 by spending $9,000, why would anyone wait until Medicare age to have it done? Of course, I also wonder about the though process of people that allow themselves to grow into a size 30. I can see being overweight. I’m just surprised that at some point it doesn’t become a big enough problem to necessitate corrective action. I suppose it does for most people; but not for a few outliers.

  2. Saket says:

    This is a very interesting post. Yet another demonstration of how preventive and chronic disease management measure, and aspects of wellness, can really do alot in bring down the health care cost.

  3. Patel says:

    I am not surprised, health care is a life long practice and management, and so the best health programs are those that effectively keep people away from the doctors and hospitals.

  4. Linda Gorman says:

    Yes, but before people start taking this as license to mercilessly harass the overweight elderly in the name of saving money on medical care (that is then spent on worthless weight loss counseling programs or the equivalent), perhaps researchers should note that the grossly overweight elderly person also has a shorter lifespan.

    It could be like the smoker case–higher health expenditures but lower overall costs once life-expectancy is taken into account.

    Men who were obese at 65 had 6-13 percent higher lifetime health care expenditures than normal weight 65 year olds (Yang, 2008), but survivor weight drifted downwards.

    To complete the confusion, there’s a VA study of elderly people with diabetes that found that normal weight diabetics had much higher expenditures than obese and overweight diabetics(Shen, 2009). In another VA study, the only people who lost weight were people who didn’t receive weight counseling (Noel, 2012).

  5. Desai says:

    I wonder if we will recognize similar savings if we invested in wellness as well.

  6. Jack says:

    Is weightloss really one of those things that people just get better at? Seems like one of those ‘get-em-while-they’re-young programs would be better. You know, like the gov’t sponsored one that has Shrek on both Get Fit! and Snickers bars?

  7. Bubba says:

    When they work, Wellness programs (WP) work in three ways. WP drives away unhealthy workers by creating a hostile work environment for them. WP coerces ambitious workers into participation if they sense upper management is involved enough to see the underlings participate. Finally, the employees that are on the fence about fitness are nudged into healthier lifestyle, which is something they wanted to do anyway but needed the push. However, for the broad spectrum of workers in a given program, WP doesn’t do squat.

  8. Kumar says:

    I think no matter how you tackle it, any thing that promotes healthy choice and healthy living is good for the larger society.

  9. Chris says:

    I’m curious if they accounted for an increased lifespan, and accounted for the additional cost to social security of that increased lifespan.

  10. H. James Prince says:

    I’d like to see the total Medicare cost numbers for an obese 65 year old and a healthy 65 year old. I’d wager that while the obese person is more expensive in the short term, they die sooner, so they will be cheaper to care for in the long term.