AMA Declares Obesity a Disease – The Impact for Employers

The American Medical Association has voted to reclassify obesity from a condition to a disease “requiring a range of medical interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention,” according to an AMA statement. Essentially, physicians will be professionally obligated to diagnose and treat obesity.

Obesity increases risk factors for many serious conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Nearly 30 percent of US adults are considered obese. Since most forms of insurance don’t cover obesity, the policy could improve access to obesity treatment such as nutritionists and trainers. Insurance may even begin to reimburse the time doctors spend talking to patients about nutrition and exercise. The bill would also increase obesity treatment options for Medicare patients and expand the types of providers allowed to offer obesity counseling.

Not only will the AMA decision impact patient care, it may also impact the staffing and employment industry. As of now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of weight. Staffing agencies should watch carefully as the ADA deems nearly all diagnosed medical conditions as “disabilities.” Could it mean that employers will have to make reasonable accommodations for employees who fall into the obese category? Could obese employees seek additional protection from discrimination and terminations based on weight? An article on Workforce.com believes so.

According to Forbes magazine, the new classification may even make employers more hesitant to hire obese workers, especially since health insurance coverage is required under the Affordable Care Act. Some employers may also try to lower wages to offset the higher health insurance costs of obesity. It also may impact workplace wellness programs that offer financial incentives tied to weight management and obesity.

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