If fat is an illness, can ugly be far behind?

By Jane Chastain

If you have been unhappy with the length or your nose, the width of your lips, the shape of your ears, the droop of your eyebrows or the sag of your chin – anything the modern beauty police deem to be unattractive – soon, help may be on the way in the form of a check from Uncle Sam or your insurance company.

With fat now a national health concern, can ugly be far behind?

Last week, with a stroke of a government erasure, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson removed language in Medicare’s coverage manual that states that obesity is not an illness.

If obesity, in government-speak, no longer is “not an illness,” one can assume it is an illness, and, if it is an illness, it must be covered by Medicare. The change means that Medicare and Medicaid participants may begin asking for reimbursement for treating excess weight and these requests will be considered.

The implication is HUGE!

If you have been longing to join a health club or one of those fad diet groups, but found them to be a little pricey for your budget, just hold on to your love handles folks – the government will foot the bill. It’s only a matter of time.

It doesn’t mean your weight-loss program of choice automatically will be covered or that drastic stomach reduction surgery your doctor has proposed, but the nose of the camel – or in this case the elephant – is under this tent.

The fat patrol is circling. Atkins Nutritionals, Slim-Fast Foods, Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers are just a few of the companies salivating over the possibility of sinking their teeth into this new pocket of government largess.

This step by HHS allows “members of the public” to request that Medicare review medical evidence to determine which interventions improve health outcomes for seniors, disabled and poor Americans who are obese.

In practical terms, it means those with the loudest voices and the biggest purses will be heard. One of the loudest voices in this debate is the American Obesity Association, which is a mouthpiece for those in the pharmaceutical and weight-loss industry.

Because private insurance companies often pattern their coverage after Medicare, the decision is expected to put strong pressure on the private sector to begin coverage for weight-loss treatments.

Presently, 64 percent of Americans are deemed to be overweight. Rarely in the annals of government has an administration ceased the opportunity to pander to so many at one time!

The government has absolved you of any guilt for those excess pounds you have acquired. It’s not your fault that you are overweight, that you spend too much time at the table or in front of the television instead of the tennis court or the treadmill. You are ill! It is no longer your problem. It is society’s problem.

If we are to believe Tommy Thompson, it is in the government’s best interest to treat this problem. First, the administration fixed Medicare – a program that is going broke – by adding an expensive new drug benefit. Now it wants us to begin covering the costs related to this new war on fat.

Thompson has thrown out a lot of big numbers in an effort to prove his battle of the bulge is cost effective. According to Thompson, obesity-related illnesses are costing us $117 billion and 300,000 lives per year.

Those figures are bunk! The only way you can come up with 300,000 figure is to assume that every overweight person who dies, dies as a result of those extra pounds, even if they drown or are killed in a car crash.

As to the $117 billion we supposedly shell out for treating obesity related diseases each year, that figure first appeared in 1998 in Obesity Research, a publication of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, which is funded by – you guessed it – pharmaceutical companies. Nevertheless, this industry urban legend has found its way into government publications and now is taken as fact.

If fat is now an illness, why not ugly?

Researchers would have little trouble finding individuals who do not measure up to the standards set by the nation’s beauty police who have been depressed and taken their own lives. Also, depression is known to be a contributing factor to any number of diseases.

Just think of all the plastic surgeons and cosmetic companies that could benefit from this pronouncement!

Now that the fat police have tapped into the public treasury, can the beauty police be far behind?