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Weight Loss and Better Health: The Approach Makes Pounds of Difference

October 16, 2013
9:38 am

Right now, I’m attending the annual Cleveland Clinic Innovation Summit, which is focused this year on obesity, diabetes and the metabolic crisis.  Speakers have addressed in detail the linkage between body weight and the chronic diseases – diabetes, heart disease, cancer – that are the leading drivers of healthcare cost increases.

While these important discussions are taking place in Cleveland, an important development on this front was presented to the public on the pages of the American Journal of Medicine.  A study by the Baylor School of Medicine (Baylor is a Healthcare Leadership Council member) presented clear evidence on how individuals can more effectively lose weight.

The study found that people enrolled in community-based weight loss programs offered by Weight Watchers (also a Healthcare Leadership Council member) were much more successful in shedding pounds than those who took a do-it-yourself approach.  Among the findings:

•    At six months, the test group assigned to the Weight Watchers program lost an average of 10.1 pounds.  Those who were sent home with dietary and exercise self-help materials lost an average of 1.3 pounds.

•    Those who engaged in Weight Watchers were eight times more likely to achieve at least a five percent weight loss than those doing it on their own.

•    Participants who engaged with Weight Watchers through all three available avenues – in-person meetings, mobile applications and online tools – experienced the greatest weight loss.

This is a significant study, particularly given our national imperative to achieve a greater degree of population wellness.  We now have compelling evidence that weight loss is more effectively achieved when individuals can utilize the expertise provided by an organization like Weight Watchers and when there is a social support mechanism to the weight loss effort.

Or, as Weight Watchers co-chief scientific officer Karen Miller-Kovach, MS, RD, put it, “Multiple access routes to engage with a proven weight loss approach make a measurable difference.”

Good for the Exchanges, Good for Medicare

October 09, 2013
9:37 am

Let’s set aside for the moment the glitches taking place with the Affordable Care Act health exchange websites.  It provides grist for late-night comedians, but we can presume the software problems will be fixed.  Besides, there are more important aspects of the exchange that warrant attention and discussion.

There was an analysis by Bloomberg Government published yesterday that shouldn’t escape notice.  Bloomberg found that competition between health insurance plans within the state-based insurance exchanges is driving down costs, by as much as one-third.  Bloomberg found what it called an “unmistakable pattern” – the more insurers operating in a given market, the lower the price of coverage for consumers.

Now, let’s stipulate that it’s early in the process and we don’t yet know how rates will be affected over time, particularly if the Administration is not successful in bringing young, healthy, currently uninsured Americans into the health coverage marketplace.  Nonetheless, the linkage between competition and a downward push on prices is significant.

This evidence should be considered in discussions about Medicare’s future.  It’s ironic that some of the same politicians who are praising the success of the ACA exchanges in making insurance affordable don’t want to improve Medicare by opening it up to more competition between private plans.

That’s an unsustainable argument.  The Medicare Trustees report confirms each year that the program will face insolvency unless there are changes made to the status quo.  Congress and future Administrations can continue to squeeze down on what Medicare pays for healthcare goods and services – thus having a negative impact on both healthcare access and quality – or it can look at the Bloomberg study, among others, and see the benefits that can be gained from competition and consumer choice.

You can’t praise the apparent success of the exchanges, but then take a ‘preserve Medicare as we know it’ position.  That falls short as both good logic and good policy.