New bill would expand provision of Medicare obesity treatment benefit to psychologists

APA and the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) support the legislation and promoting the role of psychologists in the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of health risk behaviors related to obesity.

On May 18, Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., and Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., introduced bipartisan legislation that would help increase Medicare coverage of obesity treatments, and thereby help prevent chronic diseases and lower health care costs. APA and the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) sent a letter (PDF, 95KB) in support of the legislation and promoting the role of psychologists in the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of health risk behaviors related to obesity.

Obesity is a major national health concern that contributes to the risk of developing other chronic, and often costly, health conditions; including diabetes, depression and heart disease, and can negatively impact an individual’s mortality.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act would give the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) the authority to expand the provision of the Medicare benefit for Intensive Behavioral Therapy (IBT) for Obesity to additional types of health care providers, including clinical psychologists, physicians who are not primary care physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, registered dietitians or nutrition professionals. Currently, IBT services in Medicare (which include screening for obesity in adults using measurement of BMI, dietary assessment and intensive behavioral counseling and behavioral therapy to promote weight loss through diet and exercise) can only be furnished by a primary care physician or other primary care practitioner and in a primary care setting.

“Psychologists are well positioned to promote health behavior change,” says APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, “The inclusion of psychologists will increase access and improve care for Medicare beneficiaries.”

The legislation would also: 

  • Allow CMS to expand Medicare Part D to provide coverage of FDA-approved prescription drugs for chronic weight management.
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to report back to Congress on steps taken to implement the act and to provide Congress with recommendations for better coordination of U.S. government efforts on obesity.  

Other organizations supporting the bill include NAMI, American Institute for Cancer Research, Campaign to End Obesity, the American College of Cardiology, the Endocrine Society and many more.

Senators Tom Carper, D-Del., Bill Cassidy, R-La., Christopher Coons, D-Del., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ark., introduced companion legislation (S. 1509) on June 4, 2015. APAPO has also sent a letter (PDF, 95KB) in support of the Senate version of the bill. APAPO supported a similar bill in the Senate in 2013.

APAPO supported a similar bill in the previous session.