In a move that could set a new direction in health care coverage, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) announced on October 12 that it will offer its members “the most comprehensive package of benefits ever provided to prevent and treat weight problems.”

The benefit package will include:

  • Four paid visits annually to a doctor to assess a participant’s weight and provide treatment, if necessary
  • Nutritional counseling sessions with dieticians to reduce weight and to maintain low weight
  • Prescription diet drugs for those who are already overweight
  • Stomach surgery for those who are obese

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and about a third of these are obese. This excess weight triggers a myriad of health problems whose treatments can be costly. BCBSNC said half its members are overweight or obese, costing the company $83 billion in 2003 alone.

No one disputes that similar costs plague health care insurers across the US and Canada.

BCBSNC President and CEO Robert Greczyn, Jr. said, “This is the public health crisis of the 21st century. Public health experts believe that, without a dramatic change, the coming generation will die at a younger age than our generation.”

Indeed, a dramatic rise in obesity among children is one of the facts that spurred the broad critique of weight that has swept the US in the past year or so. Today, 16 percent of children and a third of adolescents are obese. Studies show that a child who is obese between ages 10 and 13 has an 80 percent chance of becoming an obese adult.

Although some weight gain is caused by genetic or medical factors, experts believe that 99 percent is the result of poor diet and lack of necessary exercise. The LHSFNA Health Promotion Division consistently encourages Laborers and their families to pay careful attention to what they eat and to incorporate more exercise into their daily lives.

“As with other health problems such as smoking,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and Labor Co-Chairman of the LHSFNA, “excessive weight is something that many people need help controlling. If health care insurers offer this coverage, more people will get the help they need, their health will improve and the cost of their care will diminish.”

Other anti-obesity advocates agree. “This is very positive,” said Morgan Downey, Executive Director of the American Obesity Association, speaking of the BCBSNC decision in the Washington Post. “It’s very comprehensive and unprecedented in terms of covering people across their weight-spectrum needs.”

For more information and guidelines on how LIUNA health and welfare funds can incorporate benefits for obesity, contact the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division at

[Steve Clark]