Senator wants obesity covered by health insurance

Posted at: 01/09/2014 6:37 PM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A state senator wants it to be easier for New Mexicans to slim down.

He's introducing some first-of-its kind legislation on Thursday.

Senator Jacob Candelaria wants state employee health insurance coverage to include obesity treatment and prevention.

This possible new law comes on the heels of the American Medical Association classifying obesity as a disease.

Candelaria says the idea is to require the coverage in group plans for state employees.

But he hopes that's just a start.   

"Just like we as a nation attacked smoking in the 80s and 90s," said Candelaria. "We have to start getting very serious about developing a public health response to obesity."

Four years ago Albuquerque senator Jacob Candelaria weighed 380 pounds.

"I myself have lost 158 pounds," said Candelaria.

In four years, he's whipped himself into the best shape of his life.

"Something was wrong with my health and my way of thinking and I needed help," he said.

Candelaria says many New Mexicans need help.

The Centers for Disease Control seem to back him up. 

Almost 60 percent of New Mexicans are considered overweight, while 25 percent are considered obese.

It's below the 35-percent national average, but still serious says Candelaria.

"The bill would make New Mexico the first state in the country to require that our state health insurance plans cover obesity as a medical disease," he said.

It would mean treatment and prevention for obesity would be covered for state workers, retirees and their families.

The bill is just in draft form right now.

No specifics about which treatments would be included in plans yet.

"I think that this provides us an opportunity to do a test case scenario in New Mexico," said Candelaria 

Candelaria's goal is to pass the bill, and see what happens.

"We'd be able to see what works and what doesn't work, and then in future years try and expand this law to include the private insurance industry for the rest of New Mexicans," he said.

If coverage for state workers includes obesity treatments, taxpayers will pay for that.

Candelaria argues in the long run it will save money by preventing disease.  

Meantime, the state says its already starting a free wellness program for state employees in the spring and separate from this legislation.