Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bigotry Against the Obese by Leaders of Massachusetts General Hospital and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts?

I am amplifying a post by Roy Poses entitled "Why Pretend An Advertising Executive and Chamber of Commerce Leader Are Public Health Experts?".

In that post, Dr. Poses noted a lack of relevant professional credentials in executives making profoundly misinformed and indeed cruel statements about the obese:

Obesity as a public health problem has been the subject of considerable discussion. So that luminaries from the prestigious Partners Healthcare system and Massachusetts Blue Cross Blue Shield would weigh in on the issue at a public meeting should surprise no one. But see this report by the Boston Herald:

When asked about rising health-care costs, Jack Connors - chairman of the Partners chain, which includes Mass. General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals - said yesterday, 'Taking care of yourself starts at home.'

'What happened to individual responsibility?' Connors said at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Westin Boston Waterfront. 'Why is obesity such an epidemic (when) we all know that a big part of being healthy is exercising and eating the right food?'

Blue Cross Blue Shield Chairman Paul Guzzi echoed Connors’ attitude yesterday.

'What is the responsibility of the individual?' said Guzzi, who as the chamber’s chief executive hosted Senate President Therese Murray’s speech on health care yesterday, despite his dual role as Blue Cross chairman.

Dr. Poses then went on to point out the lack of these executives' appropriate credentials to be making such statements.

In a Dec. 2009 post I'd addressed related issues:

Diversity Nightmare And Federal Antidiscrimination Laws: Cleveland Clinic CEO Delos M. Cosgrove Would Proudly Discriminate Against Fat People

The following stunning quote appeared in the Nov. 27, 2009 Newsweek article "The Hospital That Could Cure Health Care" about the Cleveland Clinic:

[Cleveland Clinic president and CEO Dr. Delos M. Cosgrove, a former cardiac surgeon] has even taken on the most intractable driver of American health-care costs: Americans. Having already banned the hiring of smokers (a dictate enforced by urine tests for nicotine), Cosgrove declared this year that if it weren't illegal under federal law, he would refuse to hire fat people as well. The resulting outcry led him to apologize for "hurtful" comments. But he has not backed down from his belief that obesity is a failure of willpower, which can be attacked by the same weapons used to combat smoking: public education, economic incentives, and sheer exhortation.

My thoughts come from the perspective of a former fitness-for-duty evaluator and drug testing officer (Medical Review Officer) for the regional transit authority in a very large city, and a hiring manager in the hospital and pharmaceutical sectors. I find a profoundly discriminatory statement that a hospital CEO would "refuse to hire fat people" if he could get away with it, and that he refuses to hire smokers and forces people (presumably candidates) to take a urine nicotine test, totalitarian and highly abhorrent.

The attitudes of these executives show a near-complete ignorance of this disease and its causes and treatment.

The attitudes also seem to show simple bigotry.

In Connors' case, his statements also show ignorance of his own hospital, Mass General.

From the website of the MGH Weight Center, realistic and compassionate attitudes about obesity:

Obesity, or excess body fat, is a serious medical problem now affecting one-third of all American adults and 20% of American children and adolescents. Even mild obesity increases a person's risk of having diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disorders, liver disease, arthritis, certain cancers, and other medical conditions. Overweight people have tried hundreds of ways to lose weight, from expensive commercial programs and risky drugs to unusual diets and exercise regimens.
"Recent discoveries about the genetic and physiological causes of obesity, along with the rapid development of pharmacological opportunities, have generated hope and excitement among patients and their families, their physicians and the scientific community. Massachusetts General Hospital has assembled the resources and outstanding professionals so that we can provide state-of-the-art treatment and work to find a cure for this challenging medical problem."

Lee M. Kaplan, MD, PhD Director
Overweight and obesity, like many other chronic medical problems, require specialized treatment. We believe that weight disorders must be treated by compassionate and knowledgeable professionals who take advantage of the latest scientific developments and tailor treatment to each patient's individual needs.

In that regard, I wrote Dr. Kaplan an email:

Sent: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 7:52 AM
To: kaplan@helix.mgh.harvard.edu
Cc: Miriam@cswd.org; Lynn@cswd.org; billfabrey@amplestuff.com

Re:  Bay State hospital and insurance heavies blames
fat-slob consumers for heath problems

Dear Dr. Kaplan,

I am a physician and advocate for the best healthcare, in my case through excellence in health IT. However, I am also an advocate for another cause - antidiscrimination against the obese.

As my colleague Roy Poses of Brown wrote at the blog of the Foundation for Integrity and Responsibility in Medicine, Heathcare Renewal:

Obesity as a public health problem has been the subject of considerable discussion. So that luminaries from the prestigious Partners Healthcare system and Massachusetts Blue Cross Blue Shield would weigh in on the issue at a public meeting should surprise no one. But see this report by the Boston Herald:
When asked about rising health-care costs, Jack Connors - chairman of the Partners chain, which includes Mass. General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals - said yesterday, 'Taking care of yourself starts at home.'

'What happened to individual responsibility?' Connors said at a Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Westin Boston Waterfront. 'Why is obesity such an epidemic (when) we all know that a big part of being healthy is exercising and eating the right food?'

Blue Cross Blue Shield Chairman Paul Guzzi echoed Connors’ attitude yesterday.

'What is the responsibility of the individual?' said Guzzi, who as the chamber’s chief executive hosted Senate President Therese Murray’s speech on health care yesterday, despite his dual role as Blue Cross chairman.

It seems Connors and Guzzi are calling obese people irresponsible, in effect, lazy slobs.
Roy also noted that both your Chairman Connors and Guzzi lack healthcare credentials and therefore any understanding of the causes and challenges of treating obesity.

As a physician who has been up and down the scale myself, and discriminated against when on the heavy side, I am quite tired of such attitudes.

I note more realistic attitudes at http://www.weightcenter.org/ .

I believe a statement from you on this matter would be appropriate.

I am CC'ing this message to cswd.org and amplestuff.com, two groups with whom I communicated in the past.

It is a sad day indeed when the Chairman of one of the finest hospitals in the world, Massachusetts General, talks stupidly and discriminatorily out of the distal gastrointestinal orifice about how much people put in the proximal end of their GI tracts.

-- SS

2 comments:

DrRich said...

I have posted on my blog a critical (but well-meaning and heart-felt) reply to this post.

Rich
Covert Rationing Blog

MedInformaticsMD said...

Dear Dr. Rich,

Thanks for your post. Quite apropos.

I understand Gov. Christie of NJ is going to set up Concentration Camps for the underweight where they are force-fed pizza and pound cake.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander, no?

/sarc

p.s. "MedInformaticsMD" is not a disguise as I provide an email address at my university. It's merely a Nom de Blog.