Severe Adult Obesity Cost State Medicaid Programs $8 Billion in 2013, New Study Finds

Media Contact: Kathy Fackelmann, 202-994-8354, kfackelmann@gwu.edu

WASHINGTON, DC (November 2, 2015)—A new study finds that about 11 percent of the cost of severe adult obesity was paid for by state Medicaid programs, an amount that reached $8 billion in 2013. That cost burden will continue to grow under the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, making it more important than ever to increase access to effective treatments for severe obesity, according to the new report.

The study, which was published in the November 2015 issue of Health Affairs, finds that the 2013 costs to Medicaid ranged from a high of $1.3 billion in California—a state with a relatively low prevalence of obesity but a large Medicaid population—to a low of $5 million in Wyoming.  A multi-center research team conducted the study, which included Michael W. Long, MPH, ScD, an assistant professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

Long and his colleagues say that Medicaid isn’t the only insurer getting hit with high costs for treating severe adult obesity. The researchers say that in 2013 medical care for adults with severe obesity cost the nation a total of $69 billion, money spent on providing medical care for expensive obesity-related diseases like diabetes.

 “We need to remain focused on preventing childhood obesity through improvements to food and physical activity environments,” Long says. “However, our results highlight the urgent need to simultaneously increase access to and use of intensive clinical treatments for severe obesity.”

Long and his colleagues say that treatments like bariatric surgery and comprehensive behavioral therapy can help patients lose weight and in the long run may save insurers money. Medicaid, and especially states that have recently expanded coverage, should include such treatments as part of their long-range strategies for holding down costs.

The study, “Severe Obesity in Adults Cost State Medicaid Programs Nearly $8 Billion in 2013,” was authored by a team that included lead author Y. Claire Wang at Columbia University, Long and others.