Treating obesity continues to drain federal coffers

Some experts argue that obesity costs should be transferred to the public sector.

The fact that the obesity crisis is driving up health care costs is well recognized within the country. Numerous public, private and non-profit initiatives are underway, aimed at boosting healthy eating habits and physical activity. Despite these efforts, The Fiscal Times reports that federal and state officials are increasingly alarmed at the extent of spending allocated to address obesity. 

Today, more than a third of all adults and 17 percent of young people are clinically obese. This condition has many associated health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis and more. 

According to research performed by Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight & Wellness at George Washington University, treating obesity and obesity-related diseases costs the country approximately $305.1 billion per year. This figure also includes  the cost of non-medical services, worker productivity losses, disability issues and premature death.

Analysis by Benjamin H. Harris and Aurite Werman of the Brookings Institution found that a surprising portion of this spending is supported by Medicare and Medicaid. These federal programs spend approximately $91.6 billion a year in treating obesity. 

"These high fiscal costs also suggest that initiatives to prevent and reduce obesity should be a public-sector priority, as lower obesity can not only improve Americans' health but also substantially lower government spending on health programs," Harris and Werman wrote in their report. 

If the government does decide to reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending on obesity treatment, some health care facilities may experience challenges in accounts receivable management. Seeking outside assistance with health insurance claims follow-up can help to avoid having problems with cash flow affect the quality of care provided, and result in fewer dollars written off to bad debt.