Vice Squad
Friday, July 16, 2004
Obesity Treatments Might Receive Medicare Coverage

This has been front page news, so I imagine that Vice Squad readers have already heard all about it. Until yesterday's announcement, treatments (such as special diets or stomach stapling) for obesity had not been eligible for Medicare coverage. Now, they will be eligible, if the clinical evidence that the treatments are effective is deemed sufficient. As it will take some time to gather the evidence and make the determination, the coverage will not go into effect overnight. (I learned in the first linked article that since 2002, the IRS has accepted payments for obesity treatments as deductible expenses.)

The Center for Consumer Freedom is not enamored by the declaration of obesity as a disease.

Incidentally, the Summer 2004 issue of Public Interest includes a short article by Inas Rashad and Michael Grossman entitled "The Economics of Obesity." (Though I am as guilty as the next person, let me register an objection to any title that starts out "The Economics of..." Economics, to paraphrase Keynes, is a method, not a doctrine; there can be many economic analyses of some phenomenon but not "the" economics of the phenomenon. Of course, Keynes titled a book "The General Theory of..."; I prefer Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into...") The authors (along with co-researchers) have identified increased eating out and, interestingly, decreased smoking as major causes of the American obesity epidemic: "each 10 percent increase in the real price of cigarettes produces a 2 percent increase in the number of obese people, other things being equal." I also learned from the article that technically speaking, "obese child" is an oxymoron: kids can be overweight, but the term "obese" is used only for adults.

Vice Squad has looked at obesity every now and then, as on March 11.

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