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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Albert Munanga: Congress must act to improve senior health and quality of life

Albert Munanga

By Albert Munanga

I have had the honor of serving some of our areas greatest citizens, our seniors. They are humble, grateful for the small things, and want to live life to the fullest. Yet, many are overweight and because of that, will be limited in life span and activity. There is something we can do about that.

All of us deserve longevity and a high quality of life. However, achieving this can be more challenging for some than for others. Fortunately, Congress has an opportunity right now to help seniors live longer, with greater freedom of function, and better quality of life.

Congress has the chance to address not only senior citizens’ obesity but also to reduce the cost of the care caused by obesity in this population.

The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, if enacted, would include obesity medication in Medicare Part D, which covers medications. This is desperately needed by some of our seniors who have been struggling for years to lose weight. Unfortunately, for some, traditional methods have not been effective. Instead of helping seniors proactively lose weight to improve their general health and quality of life, Medicare currently adopts a “deal with it after it happens” approach.

This means Medicare pays for expensive treatments like open-heart surgery, prosthetic limbs for advanced diabetes, and medical equipment for stroke disabled patients. While this approach addresses end-of-life care, it does a little to promote quality of life.

Medicare already covers bariatric surgery, but it fails to support measures to prevent obesity in the first place. This policy is both wrong and shortsighted. It prioritizes invasive surgery over medication and denies doctors and seniors the choice they deserve.

Why not save the pain, suffering, and high medical costs in the first place? Including weight loss medication in Medicare Part D is a common sense solution that could prevent or minimize costly health conditions while vastly improving seniors quality of life. Taxpayers should not have to fund the high cost of preventable and expensive health conditions that can and should be avoided.

Lower-income individuals with less education tend to have a higher risk of obesity. Unfortunately, our seniors are disproportionately affected by this issue. Aging, coupled with obesity, presents a challenging combination.

Seniors tend to be less active because of personal choices, their environment, or physical limitations.

Additionally, metabolism tends to slow down as we age. The saying, “the older we get, the harder it is to lose weight,” proves to be true.

In Spokane County, a staggering 51% of all deaths are caused by heart disease, while the rest of the state has a rate of 41%. Obesity significantly contributes to high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are known risk factors for heart problems.

Ten years ago, the American Medical Association declared obesity a disease, and Washington residents are no exception to this growing concern. According to the Washington State Department of Health, Spokane County has an adult obesity rate of 28%.

Seniors have worked their entire lives, paying taxes even during their retirement years, and deserve an active and productive retirement. Despite the growing acceptance of these lifesaving weight loss medications, seniors are left out. They have earned the help they need to shed dangerous extra weight.

Is there a moral imperative to provide weight loss assistance? Should it be a matter of compassion? Or is it primarily about saving money?

One thing is clear: Including weight loss medications like Wegovy or Zepbound in Medicare must be seen as fair and just, and cost saving in the long-term.

Congress should pass the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act now. Doing so will not only drive down drug costs for everyone but also increase life expectancy, and provide a higher quality of life for our seniors.

Albert Munanga, DrBH, MSN, RN, is chief clinical officer and CEO of Serengeti Care, which provides in-home health care services in the Northwest, including in Spokane. Munanga lives in Portland.