Pass the treat and reduce Obesity Act

Communities of color are often the hardest hit when analyzing the effects of health epidemics in the United States. In fact, Black and brown Americans are often disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases and illnesses due to systemic and historic injustices that continue to plague society to this day. When looking at the impact of the obesity epidemic, this trend unfortunately continues, and has wreaked havoc on vulnerable communities.

As a state representative, I’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting Pennsylvanians in their communities, seeing firsthand the importance of adequate health care and quality treatment options. Many in our state battle obesity each day, and with it, the more than 200 severe chronic diseases that can be brought on by the impact of obesity on one’s body. While there are treatments on the market to help battle obesity — known as anti-obesity medications, or AOMs — many are out of reach for everyday community members due to a lack of insurance coverage. However, with recent movement in Washington, there is finally hope on the horizon for families.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which has bipartisan and bicameral support in Congress, would make it possible for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to provide coverage for AOMs, but has not yet had a hearing or vote in either chamber. If our congressional delegation here in Pennsylvania worked to support this legislation and pass it into law, we would see a dramatic change in the lives of those who are battling obesity.

It is clear to see that time is of the essence when taking the nationwide impact of the obesity epidemic into account. Here in Philadelphia, we have one of the highest rates of obesity in the country. The CDC has estimated that 67% of adults in our city are overweight, and in North Philadelphia alone, an estimated 70% of young people are overweight or battling obesity. These numbers are extremely alarming, and as vice chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, it is additionally concerning to me to know that a disproportionate number of these community members are Black and brown families and children.

With over 30% of adults in the commonwealth battling obesity on a daily basis, and the national statistics continuing to rise across demographics, it is evident that we have a public health issue in Pennsylvania and across the country that must be properly addressed. However, in order to do this, we must ensure access to safe and effective treatments through Medicare Part D now.

When our leaders come together and work to create change for those who are most vulnerable in our society, great things happen. It is my hope that our elected officials and administrators in Washington will wholeheartedly address the obesity epidemic this year. I recently wrote a letter to Sen. Bob Casey, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CMS and the White House, where I urged each of them to work hand-in-hand to create avenues forward. I trust that with their support, we will be able to help families who have been left behind for far too long.