Arkansas is developing a weight-loss program to offer state employees similar to the regimen that helped Gov. Mike Huckabee lose more than 100 pounds.
The governor, who has made diet and exercise his mantra, said the state’s insurance board was working on a plan to pay for part or all of the costs for obesity treatment programs.
“Historically, that’s not been covered by insurance,” Huckabee said during a morning reception at a Women in Government regional conference. “It didn’t make any sense to me that we would pay $400,000 for a person to have a quadruple bypass, and months if not years of therapy and rehabilitation, but we wouldn’t spend a couple hundred bucks to get them into a nutrition counselor so they can learn how to better eat.”
The program will begin in July with the state benefits plan providing employees with nutrition counseling, said Sharon Dickerson, executive director of the Employee Benefits Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
The division, Dickerson said, was working on a plan to pay for more comprehensive weight loss programs similar to a program Huckabee used to help lose his weight.
In 2003, Huckabee, prompted by a diabetes diagnosis, joined a 15-week program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The UAMS program for “chronic adult obesity” puts patients through three stages: a liquid diet, reintroduction of food, and weight stabilization with long-term maintenance.
Dickerson said the state was looking at contracting with UAMS or another entity to provide a similar program for state employees. She said coverage would be similar to a program providing tobacco cessation for state employees.
Huckabee said a request for proposals on the program still needs to be worked out so the state can determine types of programs that would be covered.
“You couldn’t just say, ‘I’m going to go out and buy a case of Slim Fast, will that work?”’ Huckabee told reporters after his speech. “Well, maybe it will but I don’t know if we want to pay for it.”
Huckabee said there would likely be some cost that employees would have to pay, but said he hoped it would encourage more healthy habits among state workers.
“It’s been a barrier to a lot of people who have said ‘I need to make some lifestyle changes’ but they felt like they couldn’t afford to enter into some medically supervised program,” Huckabee said.
Huckabee mentioned the proposal during a nearly hour-long speech at the conference. Most of the speech focused on his weight loss and the state’s programs to cut down on obesity and smoking. Huckabee said that with a rising number of baby boomers and increasing medical costs, health care was becoming an economic crisis.
“If something doesn’t happen, I think you can see the Iraq war isn’t the great economic concern we need to have,” Huckabee said. “It’s chronic health and how it’s going to affect us.”
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