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Good news for anyone looking for help losing weight

Written by Diane Archer

Many of us are overweight, struggling to figure out how to shake off some pounds. And, it’s never easy.  The good news is that Medicare pays the full cost of weight-loss counseling for people needing help losing weight. The bad news is that only a very small percentage of the people who might benefit from weight counseling are taking advantage of it.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that more than three in 10 people with Medicare are obese.  And, obesity contributes to chronic health conditions, including heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes. Studies show that counseling can help people take steps to lose significant weight.

Medicare covers weight-loss counseling for everyone with a body mass index of 30 or more, under Part B. To be covered, only primary care doctors or the nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants who practice in their offices can provide the benefit.

The Medicare obesity-counseling benefit includes a weekly session for the first month and a session every two weeks for the next five months.  Another six months of counseling, one visit each month, is covered for people who lose at least 6.6 pounds during the first six months of counseling.

Medicare covers weight-loss counseling at no cost to you if you see a doctor who accepts “assignment,” accepts Medicare’s approved rate as payment in full. Medicare sometimes covers gastric bypass surgery or laparoscopic banding surgery for people who are morbidly obese.

For reasons that are unclear, only a very small percentage of people with Medicare have taken advantage of the obesity-counseling benefit. They may not be aware of the obesity-counseling benefit or they may not be able to find doctors who will provide the counseling services. In sharp contrast, 250,000 people with Medicare have taken advantage of smoking-cessation counseling, which Medicare also covers.

(This post, originally published on March 24, 2015, has been updated.)

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