Obesity Policy Matters –
The ASMBS Political Action Committee at Work

Published in August Issue             

Advocates for patients with obesity continue to press for change in a healthcare system that still struggles to effectively address the public health issue of our time.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June 2016, that 38 percent of Americans had obesity as of 2014, up from 34 percent in 2006. This upward trend is something that has been going on since at least 1997, when the obesity rate was reported to be less than 20 percent.

John Morton, MD

“This is one of the only public health issues that continues to get worse and not better,” said John M. Morton, MD, immediate past president, ASMBS. “Yet, from a policy level, many are still divided over how to address the obesity epidemic. Is it prevention or treatment or both? We think it’s both and we’re fighting to get our voices heard on Capitol Hill and within State Houses across the country so that in this day and age bariatric surgery isn’t reserved for less than 1 percent of the surgically eligible population.”

The ASMBS ObesityPac, the political arm of the society, was formed in September 2015 with the goal of helping to ensure coverage of bariatric surgery in every public and private healthcare plan across the country. It also provides funding to help educate federal and state policymakers on the importance of the multidisciplinary treatment approach and to eradicate the widespread prevalence of obesity bias and stigma in our country.

A Political Action Committee or “PAC” is a popular term for a political committee organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates. Most PACs represent business, labor or ideological interests. PACs can give $5,000 to a candidate committee per election (primary, general or special). They can also give up to $15,000 annually to any national party committee, and $5,000 annually to any other PAC. PACs may receive up to $5,000 from any one individual, PAC or party committee per calendar year.

To date, ObesityPAC has raised over $80,000 and its board has had numerous discussions regarding federal and state races that ObesityPAC will be weighing in on during the final months leading up to the November elections.

“ObesityPAC is the first in the field of bariatrics,” said Dr. Morton. “We’re non-partisan. We’re fighting for greater access to bariatric surgery for our patients, but to do that we need greater access to our policymakers across the political spectrum, which ObesityPAC helps us get. We will utilize all tools at our disposal to achieve equitable care for our patients by all means necessary and we do need all hands on deck to meet our call for political action.”

The ObesityPAC enables the ASMBS to build relationships with members of Congress and key state policymakers, such as governors, state insurance commissioners, and state legislators on providing coverage for the full continuum of obesity care, particularly bariatric surgery.

Significant efforts promoting better patient access in state health exchanges and state employee benefits plans have been made in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin and many others.

Colorado became the first state healthcare exchange to switch their state essential health benefit benchmark plan to include bariatric surgery – specifically making this change to address the need for more covered obesity treatment options for Coloradans.

Christopher Gallagher

“Obesity is a huge issue with tremendous policy implications,” said Christopher Gallagher, ASMBS Washington Representative. “Over half the state healthcare exchanges under the Affordable Care Act do not cover bariatric surgery or weight loss programs. We’re working to change this state by state while also trying to get support at a federal level. It’s not enough to have the clinical evidence, we need the political support.”

A medical society forming a PAC is not a new concept. Many, including the American College of Surgeons, the American Medical Association, Society for Vascular Surgery and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have them.

ASMBS members can join the ObesityPAC Advisory Board and share their views on policy opportunities that align with the group’s broad advocacy goals.

“We will continue the fight to remove the clinical, economic, social and political barriers that unnecessarily deny or restrict proven treatments for obesity. We need everybody to join the movement. Our patients are counting on us.”

For more information about ObesityPAC, visit www.asmbs.org.