Libby bill to reduce obesity and chronic disease in Maine clears committee
A bill introduced by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, to reduce obesity and chronic disease rates in Maine, was unanimously endorsed by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday.
As amended, the bill — LD 706 “An Act To Reduce the Incidence of Obesity and Chronic Disease in the State” — makes medical nutritional therapy (MNT) provided by dietitians, physicians, and nurse practitioners reimbursable under MaineCare in any patient setting. Current law restricts MNT reimbursement to in-patient settings only.
“This is a fiscally sound, straightforward change to help people live healthier, longer and more productive lives and save the state money on treatments that might have been needed in the future to treat these preventable, chronic diseases,” said Sen. Libby. “By expanding from only hospital settings to any patient setting, we’re making MNT more easily available to more people in more areas – particularly rural areas.”
About 30 percent of Maine adults are obese. Obesity is associated with preventable chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. According to data from the National Institutes of Health, the medical costs associated with obesity are estimated at $147 billion. Additionally, estimated annual nationwide productivity costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $3.4 billion and $6.4 billion.
Many private insurers already cover these treatments and medications. Additionally, MaineCare provides coverage for many of these medications for diagnoses not specifically related to obesity.
“By expanding the coverage to outpatient or private office-based settings, we can reach a much larger populations that need help managing their weight,” said Melissa Page, a Clinical Bariatric Dietitian with Maine Medical Center during a recent public hearing on the bill. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars can be saved if we treat obesity before it causes other expensive chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and many others.”
One dietitian shared with Sen. Libby last year that their MNT services helped a MaineCare member lose 80 lbs. and as a result no longer required insulin treatment, saving the MaineCare program $12,000 annually for just one individual.
LD 706 now heads to the Maine House and Senate for votes.