How Health Insurers Can Help Kids Reach a Healthy Weight

Jun 1, 2016, 12:30 PM, Posted by Katherine Hempstead, Victoria Brown

Innovative approaches in health insurance can help support youth development and prevent chronic diseases.

While research shows that access to safe neighborhood spaces for physical activity along with affordable healthy foods help families and kids maintain a healthy weight, it’s often not enough.

Health care economist Mike Bertaut illustrated this reality through a deeply personal and passionate post last month. He opened up about his lifelong struggle with obesity and shared some important lessons about how the health care sector can help children maintain a healthy weight. It’s a moving piece worth reading.

As Mike shows us, health care providers—and health insurers—have a critical role to play, especially for children and families at highest risk for obesity and obesity-related disease.

Encouraging open discussion between providers and families is part of the solution. “Obesity is the consummate Straight Talk Issue,” Bertaut writes, "Straight Talk isn’t just about rates that are rising because of regulatory changes; it’s about transparency and communication about what we are (and aren’t) doing to help ourselves out when it comes to the rising costs of medical care." But research shows that candid dialogue is far too rare. Providers worry about offending their patients, and they rarely get the training they need to engage around sensitive issues like body weight. And just as important, they often aren’t paid for this kind of work.

Bertaut’s employer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana, is helping to chart a new course. Beginning this year, it is offering the Healthier Generation Benefit to 73,000 children across the state. The benefit was designed by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit organization founded by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. More than one dozen major health plans and employer groups across the nation have adopted this exciting new program.

The Healthier Generation Benefit offers special training for providers about discussing weight and other sensitive issues with families. Covered children qualify for:

  • Free BMI screening as part of an annual wellness exam.
  • Four visits with a registered dietitian to provide tips to families about healthy eating. 
  • Additional care as needed, including primary care visits and up to six months of intensive counseling, when appropriate.

The Healthier Generation Benefit is just one example of how innovative approaches in health insurance can help keep kids healthy and prevent obesity and other chronic diseases. Many of the newer solutions go far beyond the clinical setting.

For example, children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, which together cover approximately one-third of U.S. children, can take advantage of the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment benefit, which covers obesity-related services. An even more ambitious Medicaid program, Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration, is testing integrated obesity prevention efforts in multiple settings across sectors—including schools, health care and child care centers. And these efforts don’t stop with kids. The Affordable Care Act requires coverage of obesity screening and counseling for all ages.

These are all promising signs of how public and private health insurers can help support our kids’ healthy development. We look forward to further innovation, and hope that health insurance coverage can increasingly live up to its potential by connecting enrollees with the services that will best help them live a healthy and happy life.

Learn more about the Healthier Generation Benefit, a project created jointly by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association.


Editor's note: Victoria played a significant role creating the Healthier Generation Benefit in her previous position at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

 

Victoria K. Brown is a senior program officer working to bridge multiple sectors, including the business community, to address the epidemic of childhood obesity and help children lead longer, healthier lives. Read her full bio.

Katherine Hempstead, PhD, has directed the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s work on health insurance coverage since 2013. In addition, Hempstead works on issues related to health care price transparency and value. Read her full bio.