Integrated Health Goes to Washington

Published in June 2015 Issue             

On April 24, 2015, leaders of the Integrated Health Executive Council (IHEC) of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) descended on Capitol Hill to educate legislators and their staff about the ASMBSís advocacy priorities at both the federal and state levels. Issues that were discussed included the obesity communityís support for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) and implementation of the Affordable Care Actís essential health benefit (EHB) provisions at the state level.

IHEC leaders that participated in the April 24th Advocacy Day included: President Christine Bauer, MSN RN CBN; President-Elect Karen Flanders, MSN ARNP; Past President Karen Schulz, RN MSN CBN; Senior Past President Laura Boyer, RN CBN; and Member at Large Pamela Davis, RN, CBN, CCM. Council members visited 10 congressional offices across their individual home states of Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio
and Tennessee.

Visits on the House side focused on securing support for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act Ė legislation that will expand obesity drug coverage and intensive behavioral counseling treatment options under the Medicare program. On the Senate side, IHEC leaders educated congressional staff about the TROA as well as continuing concerns that ASMBS and the obesity community have with state health exchange plans failure to include broad coverage of evidence-based obesity treatment services. For example, ASMBS highlighted how 28 state exchange plans currently exclude coverage for bariatric surgery and nearly all fail to cover weight loss programs or FDA-approved obesity drugs.

When asked what Congress could do to address the issues with state health exchange coverage, IHEC leaders urged Senate offices to press Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to issue guidance to state exchanges that would mirror the coverage policy recently adopted by the Office of Personnel Management for the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) Program, which precludes FEHB carriers from excluding coverage for obesity treatment services based on the health planís perception that obesity is a lifestyle condition or that treatment is cosmetic in nature. Numerous Senate offices were intrigued with
this idea.

In addition to plying their new advocacy skills, IHEC leaders initiated a number of relationships with key congressional staff and look forward to serving as local resources for these individuals on obesity treatment issues back in their respective home states.