Many physician practices offer services to their overweight and obese patients meant to help them lose weight and keep it off. This can take many forms, from medical interventions to behavioral counseling and diet plans. New studies continue to be published that suggest being overweight truly does put people at greater risk of death, regardless of their activity levels or other markers of health, according to Forbes. As such, overweight and obesity are both pressing public health issues, and problems physicians are likely to see very often.

However, tackling obesity and maintaining healthy revenue cycle management are sometimes at odds.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies on the state and public exchanges to cover obesity screening and counseling, so if a practice offers only these services, revenue should not be disrupted unduly. However, each state is free to choose its level of coverage for obesity-related services beyond that baseline. Some, such as Michigan, extend it very far. Other states may not choose to do so. Physician practices must keep abreast of developments in their own states' decisions regarding obesity treatment and coverage. As many physicians know, medical costs for the obese average $1,429 higher annually than those for people of normal weight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Without coverage that defrays these extra costs, practices may find seeing obese patients is a burden on their revenue cycle management.

Treatment options and payment
According to the CDC, obese individuals are at a high risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and certain cancers, among other conditions. Studies have shown patients who lose even 5 percent of their starting weight can see significant improvement. As such, physicians often pay close attention to what can be done for obese patients to help them improve their quality of life.

In Michigan, there is coverage for obesity services through the ACA exchanges.

"As Michigan always ranks in the top 10 states in terms of obesity, (weight-loss programs) are very needed services here," Wendy Miller, director of the Weight Control Center for Beaumont in Royal Oak, told Detroit News. "The reason to treat obesity isn't just to get the weight off. It's to improve a person's overall quality of life."

As an example of Michigan's coverage of obesity treatment, patients are covered for up to six appointments with a dietician per calendar year. Further treatment options are also available.

The takeaway
Practices that choose to offer obesity treatment services of any variety must be aware of what insurance – public or private – will and will not cover. This may entail extra vigilance in patient insurance verification. Working with an outside medical billing and coding firm that verifies coverage can save a significant amount of time in this endeavor.