Friday, September 21, 2001

Under bill, insurers cover obesity surgery

By Travis James Tritten
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — In an effort to combat Ohio's expanding waistlines, one state lawmaker wants insurance providers to cover surgery that would treat morbid obesity.

        The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, was introduced Thursday and would require insurers to foot the bill on a $6,000 to $10,000 surgical procedure that reduces the stomach size of Ohioans who are 100 pounds or more overweight.

        Such a bill might be a tough sell in a Republican-dominated legislature.

        But Mr. Hagan contends the state's weight problem leads to other serious medical conditions and said the state and private insurers “should not turn our backs on people with the disease.”

        “Insurance coverage will help people get treatment and become healthier and more productive more quickly,” Mr. Hagan said.

        About 20 percent of Ohioans are obese, ranking the state 25th in the nation, said Randy Hertzer, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health.

        Nationally, obesity has risen 61 percent in the past decade, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this month.

        Obesity has been directly linked to maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and hypertension, but the department has not classified it as a disease, Mr. Hertzer said.

        Ohio insurers have historically balked at state mandates on coverage such as Mr. Hagan's, and will probably oppose the bill, said Kelly McGivern, spokeswoman for the Ohio Association of Health Plans.

        The bill would increase insurance premiums and cause more Ohioans to lose coverage, she said. The association also said the obesity surgery could result in medical complications.


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