CIGNA Enlists In The War Against Obesity

By Allison Bell

One of the countrys biggest insurers is trying to get serious about helping health plan members cope with weight problems.

CIGNA Corp., Philadelphia, is adding a family of programs aimed at both normal-weight health plan members and members who already weigh more than they ought to weigh.

The companys Bloomfield Hills, Conn., managed care unit will be making the programs available with its health plans starting in 2006.

The program includes:

–A wellness program for normal-weight plan members.

–A weight-loss program that combines diets, exercise advice and behavioral modification advice for overweight or moderately obese members.

–A more aggressive disease-management program for members who are obese and suffer from serious, obesity-related health problems, such as high blood pressure.

–A case-management and “center of excellence program” for members who may weigh enough to be candidates for weight-control surgery, which is also known as “bariatric surgery.”

The centers of excellence program could end up influencing consumers outside of CIGNA health plans, because CIGNA teams will be picking the centers of excellence by looking at quality indicators such as procedure volume, the surgeons level of experience and availability of long-term post-operative care programs.

Traditionally, American society has treated obesity more as a cosmetic problem than a health problem. But, today, “obesity has emerged as one of the most serious health threats our country faces,” according to Dr. W. Allen Schaffer, CIGNAs chief clinical officer.

A team led by Dr. Henry Buchwald, a medical researcher at the University of Minnesota, put obesity in a grim light in October 2004. The team published a paper concluding that, even though the death rate for bariatric surgery has been about 1 death for every 1,000 procedures, the total death rate after 5 years is about 10 times higher for severely obese patients who have tried to get by on their own than it is for similar patients who have had the surgery.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, April 29, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.