Libby introduces bill to reduce obesity and chronic disease in Maine

Posted: February 27, 2019 | Health and Human Services, Senator Libby

A bill introduced by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, to reduce obesity and chronic disease rates in Maine, had a public hearing in the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

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. The bill also extends MaineCare coverage to obesity treatment medications.

“By making this fiscally sound, straightforward change, we help people live healthier, longer and more productive lives and save the state money on treatments that they might have needed in the future for these preventable, chronic diseases,” said Sen. Libby. “One dietitian shared with me 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.”

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. “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.”

Also supporting the bill were the Maine Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Director of the WOW Clinic at Northern Light.

LD 706 faces further action in the Health and Human Services Committee and votes in the House and Senate.