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Should Employers Offer Medical Weight Loss Benefits?

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Over the last few years, the importance of employee benefits has been underscored.

Following the Great Resignation of 2020, some companies have begun prioritizing their employee packages to attract more talent.

On the flip side, some employees themselves have begun campaigning for better perks and packages with their current employers.

Just last year, such was the case for healthcare industry workers in Kaiser Permanente, who went on strike for several reasons, including benefits.

According to Forbes, among the most in-demand benefits today have to do with health and wellness.

In light of the obesity epidemic, wherein nearly 50% of all American adults are diagnosed with this chronic condition, many employees are now asking for medical weight loss to be covered in their employer-provided benefits. 

What is medical weight loss?

Medical weight loss is the term used to describe doctor-led initiatives that aim to help patients shed excess fat. What sets this apart from more traditional weight loss methods is that it uses FDA-approved drugs. In most cases, doctors prescribe GLP-1 for weight loss.

GLP-1, or GLP-1 agonists, are receptors in the body that can curb cravings and increase feelings of satiety.

This helps even out the genetic playing field, especially since many who suffer from obesity struggle with different relevant aspects like medical history, stress, etc.

Several types of popular GLP-1s include semaglutide, liraglutide, and tirzepatide. Brand names of these include Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Victoza.

On average, these can result in up to 15% of total body weight lost.

That said, another aspect that differentiates medical weight loss is that only select patients are eligible for it.

Since these drugs work on a genetic level, only those who have not succeeded with other weight loss solutions and who have BMIs over 30 are considered proper candidates.

In some cases, patients with BMIs over 27 with comorbidities may be prescribed a medical weight loss program if losing the extra weight will benefit their conditions.

For the best and safest results, a medical weight loss program is meant to be a long-term initiative.

How employers are responding and why they need to do more

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans reports that about 22% of US companies cover certain weight loss drugs in their benefits package.

While this is promising, it’s still smaller compared to how many employers include weight management programs (32%) and bariatric surgery (45%).

Experts argue that this hesitation to more rapidly offer GLP-1 employee benefits comes from cost concerns.

Because medical weight loss programs are long-term commitments, this is where it gets tricky for employers since covering an extended medical plan like this can be rather pricey.

Across the board, medical weight loss plans can cost a person about $1,000 monthly.

However, employers should take note that the potential pros of offering this benefit can outweigh the cons. Offhand, weight-related diseases include chronic conditions like diabetes and heart problems, which can cost more in terms of healthcare.

Apart from this, the NIH has reported that absenteeism is up to 1.4 times higher in obese individuals. These factors can significantly impact overall employee performance and company revenue.

Apart from this, offering more tailored wellness efforts, like medical weight loss, has been found to increase levels of employee engagement.

Over time, these have been found to enhance company culture and help foster more positive work environments.

All in all, while not all companies may have the resources to offer medical weight loss to everyone, it is a benefit worth looking into for employers and employees alike.

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