Weight problems are an increasingly prominent public health problem in the U.S. Experts estimate that two-thirds of adults in the nation are obese or overweight. While excess weight is not harmful in and of itself, it significantly increases the long-term risk of other chronic illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer. This underscores the importance of employers offering workers medical insurance plans that will help them address weight problems and any associated issues. Human resource consulting firms can help businesses select the best plans.

Although there are a number of surgical procedures that can facilitate weight loss, several medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offer a less invasive option. However, past complications with previous formulations of weight loss drugs have made various medical insurers reluctant to cover them, as reported by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Employee turnover is an influential factor
The new source cited a study that asserted obesity is responsible for 21 percent of annual health care costs in the U.S., a fact that demonstrates why prevention and weight loss are important to the economy.  When it comes to therapeutic options, there are at least four drugs the FDA approved for appetite suppression, including Contrave and Saxenda. When combined with diet and exercise, they can lead to a weight reduction of 5 to 10 percent of body weight, which can have significant health benefits.

However, some insurance companies are reluctant to cover these drugs for several reasons. On one hand, previous medications for weight loss, such as fenfluramine, were associated with heart valve damage, a fact that is not necessarily relevant for newer, safer products such as Saxenda. On the other hand, the true extent of the benefits of the new formulations of appetite suppressants may only become discernible in the long term, and many insurance companies demand to see results in the short term.

Employers who have a high turnover rate may refuse to cover these new medications because they prefer to see more immediate positive results. However, if a company aims to retain employees for a long-term career, it may be wise for the business to seek out more comprehensive coverage.

Obesity prevalence varies
For guidance on how widespread the obesity problem is, businesses can look at prevalence rates within their own states. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 30 and 35 percent of the individual populations within 18 states are obese. For 23 states, that rate is between 25 and 30 percent. In descending order, the regions of the nation with the highest obesity rates are the South, Midwest, Northeast and West.