Declaration of Obesity as Disease Could Make SSDI Claims Easier

June 28, 2013

Obesity afflicts nearly 80 million Americans and now, it is formally recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association.
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Los Angeles Social Security Disability Insurance Attorney Vincent Howard of HOWARD LAW recognizes that this declaration will clear the way for more federal disability claims related to obesity. However, given the condition's pervasiveness, general ability to treat and calls for a slimming of disability rolls, claimants will likely still face an uphill battle with this one.

Obesity used to listed as an impairment on the Social Security Administration's disability listings, however it was removed back in 1999. The logic behind this was that a great many people who are obese are fully capable of holding gainful employment. However, there is a point at which obesity may become a disabling condition, one that is chronic and resistant to treatments.

Obesity is defined as an individual with a body mass index of 30 or higher. Morbid obesity, defined as an excessive accumulation of body fat, is diagnosed when one has a BMI of 40 or higher.

One can still be awarded disability benefits on the sole basis of obesity, but generally you or your representative needs to show that the limitations are equal to those spelled out in an impairment listing or that the condition contributes to other listed impairments.

So for example, your obesity may significantly hinder your ability to walk.Your condition might then be considered equal to the impairment listing of a serious dysfunction of a weight-bearing joint.

Additionally, obesity tends to be linked to a host of conditions that could easily be considered impairments, such as those affecting the respiratory, cardiovascular or musculoskeletal systems. There a number of disabling conditions that could stem from problems with these systems.

The American Medical Association's vote to classify obesity as a disease will further legitimize future SSDI claims involving this condition, even if it's not the sole cause for the claim.

Obesity affects about one-third of all U.S. adults and more than 17 percent of children.

The AMA's decision was reportedly an effort to pressure insurance companies to reimburse doctors for the task of discussing and treating obesity health risks and also to provide incentives to health care professionals to monitor progress, no matter how tedious.

Although Medicare will cover the costs for disabled obese Americans over the age of 65, private coverage of such treatments varies significantly from provider to provider.

This ruling makes a diagnosis and treatment an obligation, rather than an option. Research has indicated that about half of obese patients have never been told that they should seek treatment, mostly due to their doctors' desire not to offend.

Of course, in the end, this can lead to deepening the rut, so to speak, making it tougher for patients to make the changes necessary to get healthy.

This altered definition changes obesity from a behavioral problem to a medical one. This is a move that should help us move toward facing the issue head on, and providing assistance without prejudice to those who have become disabled as a result.

Los Angeles Disability Benefits Attorney VINCENT HOWARD at HOWARD LAW can help. Call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online.

Additional Resources:
AMA declares obesity a disease, June 18, 2013, By Melissa Healy and Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times

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