Prepared by Christopher Gallagher, OCC Washington Representative
Obesity Advocates Target West Virginia & Virginia for TROA Support
In early March, Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI), Tom Reed (R-NY), Raul Ruiz (D-CA) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) introduced S. 596/HR 1577, the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) in the Senate and House, respectively. Following the drop of the bill, Obesity Care Continuum (OCC) member groups have been continuously meeting with congressional staff of House and Senate members who were supporters of TROA in the previous Congress.
On June 11th, advocates met with congressional staff from the Virginia and West Virginia congressional delegations as part of the Obesity Medicine Association’s monthly advocacy day program. Drs. Laura Davisson, Allan Hardy and Komal Trivedi had virtual meetings with the offices of Senators Capito (R-WV), Manchin (D-WV) and Warner (D-VA) and Representatives Miller (R-WV) and McKInley (R-WV). To date, we have met with over 150 offices and these efforts continue to grow cosponsorship for the bill — now with 15 cosponsors in the Senate and 69 in the House!
These continuing advocacy efforts got a big boost in June when the Obesity Care Advocacy Network (OCAN) launched a new nationwide campaign, Obesity Care Now, to educate people about the dangers of obesity and to call on Congress and the Biden administration to follow the science and provide treatment options for the growing number of Americans living with obesity who lack access to comprehensive care. We are hopeful that this new campaign and the OAC’s legislative alert surrounding TROA will help move the needle to persuade more Senators and Representatives to cosponsor this critical legislation.
OCAN Leaders Meet with CMS Coverage Group…Again!
On June 30, 2021, OCAN leaders, including obesity medicine specialist Dr. Verlyn Warrington, called on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) again to take administrative action to implement the policy provisions of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. In August of 2020, OCAN met with staff from CMS’s Part B and Part D Coverage Groups and urged the agency to act on TROA given the clear link that was being demonstrated between obesity and poor outcomes from COVID-19. OCAN leaders highlighted how since that August 2020 meeting, roughly 425,000 more Americans have died from COVID-19 — many of whom were affected by overweight or obesity. Hopefully, policymakers will recognize the critical need for more comprehensive coverage for obesity treatment and act on TROA this year!
State Obesity Coverage Bills:
Louisiana State Employee Plan to Provide Coverage of Bariatric Surgery
On June 16, 2021, the Louisiana State Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 150, which was championed by Senate Health Committee Vice Chair Regina Barrow (D) and fellow Committee member Gerald Boudreaux (D). The legislation will allow for up to 300 state employees a year with severe obesity to have bariatric surgery. While the new coverage has a number of limitations, it does represent a key first step toward hopefully comprehensive coverage of obesity treatment in the future. Passage of the new law was the result of combined advocacy efforts of the ASMBS Louisiana State Chapter and other major stakeholders in the state.
Minnesota Budget Bill Includes Medicaid Coverage for Obesity Drugs
On June 30, 2021, the Minnesota State Legislature approved a budget deal that will allow for Medical Assistance (Medicaid) coverage for FDA-approved anti-obesity medications (AOMs). Obesity advocates have been working behind the scenes to maintain this provision in the final budget package that now heads to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. Under the agreement, the state’s Medicaid program would allocate approximately $725,000 in Fiscal Years (FY) 2022/2023 and $1.27 million in FY 2023/2024 for obesity drug coverage.
Push for Medicaid Coverage of Obesity Drugs Continues in PA
On June 21, 2021, Senator Joe Pittman introduced Senate Bill (SB) 782 — companion legislation to Pennsylvania State Representative Donna Oberlander’s House Bill (HB) 293, which would allow FDA-approved medications that treat obesity to be covered under the state’s Medicaid program, if managed care organizations decide coverage for these drugs is medically necessary. This is a major step as there has never been companion legislation introduced in the Senate since Rep. Oberlander began championing this issue four years ago. On April 12th, the OAC sent a letter of support for HB 293 to the Co-Chairs of the House Health Committee and is currently working with other member groups of the Obesity Care Continuum on a joint letter of support for the Oberlander/Pittman legislation.
Legislation Surrounding Obesity Treatment Coverage in Connecticut Health Plans Comes up Short!
Connecticut State Senators Eric Berthel (R-32) and Saud Anwar (D-3) were unsuccessful in their efforts to pass legislation (SB-1007), which calls for the State Medicaid program and all private health insurance plans in Connecticut to provide robust coverage for metabolic and bariatric surgery and FDA-approved obesity drugs. While the bill did pass a number of procedural hurdles, the legislation was not included in the final budget package that Governor Ned Lamont signed into law during June. However, Senator Berthel was able to secure funding for a new study surrounding obesity care.