Prepared by Christopher Gallagher, OCC Washington Representative
OCAN Leaders Continue Push for TROA Passage
As September ends, House Democratic leadership and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have renewed negotiations regarding the broad outlines of a pandemic relief package. While negotiations continue on pandemic relief, Congress dod reach and agreement on a continuing resolution (CR), which will continue to fund the federal government through December 11th.
Unfortunately, neither early drafts of the House pandemic relief package or the recently passed CR included the provisions of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA). Despite this, OCAN leaders continued to advocate for inclusion of TROA in any must-pass piece of legislation before Congress adjourns sine die in December. Most recently, obesity advocates held virtual meetings with the offices of Senators who are current cosponsors of TROA — urging them to push Senate leadership regarding the necessity of expanding coverage of obesity care options given the growing evidence surrounding poor outcomes for those with obesity who contract COVID-19.
PA STARS Continue Push for Medicaid Coverage of Obesity Drugs
OCC State Advocacy Representatives (STARs) for Pennsylvania continued their advocacy efforts surrounding passage of HB 410 with key policymakers in Governor Wolf’s (D) office, the State’s Department of Human Resources and majority and minority staff with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The key focus of these discussions revolve around a fiscal score from the Governors’s Budget Office (GBO) which states that passage of HB 410 to allow Medicaid coverage of anti-obesity medications (AOMs) would result in an annual cost to the state of $88.6 million.
At issue were the GBO’s assumptions that 10 percent of eligible Medicaid beneficiaries in Pennsylvania would utilize AOMs. OCC leaders Ted Kyle, Katrina Crist and Drs. Verlyn Warrington and Vicki March were joined by policy advisors Paul Dempsey and Nichole Hannah in a series of virtual meetings to inform state policymakers regarding publicly reported state Medicaid data surrounding AOM utilization and costs across the country, which state that the average utilization rate of AOM’s in Medicaid programs is 0.2 percent and the total cost of AOMs is $7,793,010. OCC leaders also shared with state policymakers an analysis that OCC did with a utilization rate of 0.2 percent and more refined Medicaid eligibility numbers based on Medicaid expansion data for Pennsylvania as well as a study on potential Medicare savings associated with coverage of AOMs.
At the time of this report, OCC was hopeful that the GBO will be receptive to lowering its fiscal score for HB 410, which would greatly increase the chances of final passage for the legislation.
Trust for America’s Health Releases State of Obesity Report
On September 17th, the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) released its annual obesity report, entitled “State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America.” TFAH”s report found that the U.S. adult obesity rate passed the 40 percent mark for the first time — standing now at 42.4 percent. Since, 2008, the national adult obesity rate has increased by 26 percent.
TFAH’s report also highlights how “concerns about the impact of obesity have taken on new dimensions this year as having obesity is one of the underlying health conditions associated with the most serious consequences of COVID infection, including hospitalization and death. These new data mean that 42 percent of all Americans are at increased risk of serious, possibly fatal, health impacts from COVID-19 due to their weight and health conditions related to obesity.”
OCC Groups Discuss Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine
During September, a number of OCC member groups provided comments to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) regarding its “Discussion Draft of the Preliminary Framework for Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine.”
OCC groups applauded NASEM for highlighting that “the principle of fairness includes the obligation to develop allocation criteria based only on relevant non-discriminatory characteristics, already noted under the principle of equal regard, to apply these criteria impartially, and to employ fair procedures in allocation and distribution” …and that “the principle of fairness here entails formulating criteria focused on individual, community, and social needs and risks, and vigilantly avoiding the sometimes conventional practices that create and sustain discrimination.”
OCC groups also highlighted how “throughout the past decades, the prevalence of obesity has skyrocketed across our country. Despite this fact, many policymakers continue to view obesity as a lifestyle choice or personal failing. Others acknowledge that obesity is a chronic and complex disease, but believe that all that’s needed is more robust prevention. However, this approach is not shared by our leading clinicians and scientists who focus on obesity who acknowledge the need for both prevention and treatment of this chronic disease. These perceptions and attitudes, coupled with bias and stigma, have resulted in health insurance plans taking vastly different approaches in determining what and how obesity treatment services are covered for their members.”
OCC groups were “hopeful that NASEM’s strong work surrounding equitable allocation of a COVID-19 vaccine will also be a signal to public and private health plans across the country about obesity and the significant role this disease plays in severe poor outcomes with COVID-19 and other obesityrelated comorbidities. We must ensure that all individuals affected by obesity have access to and coverage of all evidenced based treatment avenues for obesity.”