Saturday, February 03, 2007

a late Christmas present for Weight Watchers, Inc.

The largest Medicaid provider in West Virginia, UniCare, just announced a pilot program that will allow its West Virginia clients 16 weeks of free weight loss courses from Weight Watchers. An estimated two-thirds of West Virginian adults are overweight, and the state "estimated that it spent nearly $140 million on medical and pharmacy costs related to obesity" in 2002. In a similar test program last year:
Tennessee’s Medicaid agency, known as TennCare, completed a pilot program for 1,400 Medicaid recipients who paid nominal fees to participate in Weight Watchers. Over a six-month period, they lost a combined total of more than 8,000 pounds, according to TennCare spokeswoman Marilyn Wilson.

This news is bound to make Weight Watchers' stock go up, especially since the program was chosen because of its positive track record and research that shows it is effective. If the program is successful, it could be expanded to include other states served by the insurer. A press release on an insurance industry site gives more details on the program. Adults must have a BMI of 25 or greater (like yours truly) to qualify for the program. A physician referral is also required.

There is a lot of potential here, I think. Losing weight could make Medicaid recipients healthier and more mobile, which may some people improve their financial situation too. It sounds Weight Watchers will be creating special courses and not just giving program participants passes to attend regular meetings, which seems appropriate. Medicaid recipients are usually living in extreme poverty and need more than just the points values for Halloween candy and tips on new uses for fat-free Cool Whip (sadly, some of the meetings I've attended have been like this). They are going to need help figuring out how to cook healthy, low-calorie meals for their families on a tight budget.

It will be interesting to see how well the program succeeds. I also wonder what kind of support will be available for people once they finish the 16 weeks of courses covered by the program. The whole premise of Weight Watchers is that you need the meetings to continue to succeed, and not a lot of people reach their weight goals in 16 weeks.

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"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07