We are facing an epidemic that has cost the lives of thousands of Americans. It has devastated our state financially, leaving our communities decimated throughout the region. We now face the mounting challenge of rebuilding our state and our country.
We cannot afford to avoid addressing the issue of obesity any longer. This disease has taken 300,000 lives each year and is the second leading cause of death in our country. The obesity crisis has had severe health consequences for Americans and continues to become costlier every day. Obesity-related expenses have increased the annual medical care costs by an estimated $2,877 per person in Medicare and Medicaid. Overall, obesity-related expenses account for 38.5% of all payments by public health insurance programs, with the overall total cost of chronic diseases linked to obesity equivalent to 9.3% of the U.S. GDP.
One of the primary reasons we have faced such a crisis is that Americans living with obesity continue to lack the proper support structure to fight the disease. Too often, society perceives obesity as a personal choice rather than an actual medical condition, leaving individuals with this condition to fight for themselves. We need to enact regulations that ensure folks can access their medications and treatments.
We can begin to fight obesity by amplifying health care access and passing the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) or including it in budget reconciliation. The legislation looks to treat obesity in adults by expanding benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. Specifically, it would widen coverage for anti-obesity medications (AOMs) that treat obesity through Medicare Part D and increase the types of healthcare providers qualified to provide intensive behavioral therapy (IBT). By treating obesity as a chronic medical condition, we can save lives by investing in all of New York state.
At the same time, passing TROA will save our state millions in the future. Enacting TROA would save the government nearly $25 million over the next 10 years. As a result, our investments would have a domino effect as treating people living with obesity would lower their risk for other diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Ninety percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese, and obesity increases the risk of 13 types of cancers.
By treating obesity, we can lower the rate of associated diseases and lower healthcare costs. One study found that treating obesity through AOMs costs $21 per year, whereas treating diabetes costs $115. Another study determined that treating obesity decreases cancer-causing inflammatory biomarkers, reducing direct cancer care expenditures by $36 billion per year. As a result, our healthier society would lower Medicare spending for impacted beneficiaries, giving us greater access to resources should the next pandemic arrive.
Our state and our country face a turning point in the fight against obesity. We must use this moment to reinvest in health care for our communities. Let’s enact TROA so that New York can continue fighting this epidemic and save American lives.
Hazel Dukes is president and Lorraine Braithwaite-Harte is health chairwoman of the NAACP New York State Conference.