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The Takeaway: Medicare Extends Obesity Coverage; HHS Says Penalize Nursing Homes For Sedating Seniors

Talking Patients Out Of Obesity: With more than 30 percent of men and women in the Medicare population estimated to be obese, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have decided to take action. Medicare will now cover obesity counseling and screening to help eligible beneficiaries lose weight.

This decision is an important step in aligning Medicare's portfolio of preventive services with evidence and addressing risk factors for disease," CMS chief medical officer Patrick Conway said in a statement.

The new benefit will allow any patient deemed obese (based on their  body mass index) to visit a primary care office for a) weekly counseling visits for one month, and b) every-other-week counseling for an additional five months. Patients who succeed in losing at least 6.6 pounds during the first six months of counseling are eligible for once-a-month counseling sessions for another six months. The counseling sessions will focus on "behavioral therapy to promote sustained weight loss through high intensity interventions on diet and exercise."

Apparently, not everyone is happy about this development. "Many physicians have no training in weight-loss counseling," Donna Ryan, an obesity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told USA Today. But Christy Ferguson, director of the STOP Obesity Alliance, said perhaps the fact that doctors can now be paid by Medicare for weight-related counseling will encourage more of them to seek training in this department. "This is a step in the right direction," she said.

Drugging Dementia Patients Must Stop: Despite repeated government warnings, U.S. nursing homes continue to give dementia patients powerful antipsychotic medicines, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson testified before the Senate Committee on Aging this week, saying Medicare officials need to do more to put an end to this practice.

A report issued by Levinson's office in May found that 14 percent of all nursing home Medicare patients were prescribed antipsychotic drugs, and 83 percent of Medicare claims for antipsychotics were for patients with dementia, though this is specifically warned against in the drugs' labeling. Antipsychotics are designed for those suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but they're given to dementia patients to pacify the aggressive behavior that sometimes accompanies the condition. These drugs, known for their sedative effect, also have the nasty side habit of causing weight gain, elevated blood sugar and high cholesterol. Levison called for Medicare to begin penalizing nursing homes that inappropriately prescribe antipsychotics to dementia patients.

Thursday Quick Hits:

  • A new report provides the first-ever recommended treatment strategies for older HIV patients. In 2006, 26 percent of HIV-infected adults in the U.S. were at least age 50, and 2011 estimates place that number at almost 40 percent.

Photo: Peter Hince/Getty Images

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