Nutritionists Join Ortiz in the Fight for Insurance Coverage, Better Labeling and Healthier Children

March 4, 2003
Assemblyman Felix W. Ortiz, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy, was joined by local members of the New York State Dietetic Association (NYSDA) - including Kindy Peaslee, a Registered Dietitian (RD) from Greenfield Center, NY who is the spokesperson for the NYSDA, Maria Museler, RD from Albany, Marlisa Brown, RD from Bayshore, Long Island and Rita Batheja, RD from Baldwin, Long Island - at a press conference today to highlight the obesity crisis and the introduction of legislation requiring health insurance policies to cover Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT). MNT is defined as nutritional diagnostic, therapy, and counseling services for the purpose of disease management provided by State Certified Dietitians and Nutritionists upon referral from a physician. The federal Medicare program has determined that MNT can be a reimbursable procedure for certain medical conditions.

The dietitians spoke about the effectiveness of MNT in treating the major diseases affecting Americans such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, low birth-weight, and the number one health problem facing American children, obesity. According to the Surgeon General, 8 of the 10 leading causes of death can be influenced by diet. These problems cost hundreds of billions of dollars because of health care costs and lost productivity. The obesity problem is a time bomb as children and teens increasingly are developing obesity and adult diabetes at younger ages.

"Diabetics need dietary counseling to lower their blood sugar and prevent complications. Treatment with medications cost 50% more than MNT. However, patients will forego counseling because their insurance plans won't cover it. This is a missed opportunity", said Maria Museler, RD, Legislative Chair for NYSDA.

Assemblyman Ortiz said, "We are in a fiscal crisis that is going to get worse because more and more of our citizens are unhealthy due to poor eating habits and lack of physical activity. We spend hundreds of millions on expensive drugs to treat these illnesses but we don't support less costly treatments such as nutrition counseling and therapy. These dietitians are highly trained professionals and should be covered by health insurers for the benefit of both our physical and fiscal health."

Ortiz' Task Force has been developing a comprehensive approach to address these problems at school, in the community and at home. The MNT insurance coverage bill can help families afford the services to change bad eating patterns. To help families when they eat out, Ortiz recently introduced the fast food nutrition labeling bill (A. 5520) which would require fat, calorie and sodium information on menu boards and menus. The Childhood Obesity Prevention bill (A. 2800) would provide grants to schools and community organizations, and fund public service ads aimed at improving nutrition, preventing childhood obesity and increasing physical activity.

"These are serious health issues that we cannot ignore, not only because of the suffering of the children but also because of the toll on our health care system, our schools and our future workforce. Obesity and diabetes are very difficult and persistent problems among adults in our society, therefore the State needs to address it in childhood. The health insurance industry can help by covering the services of dietitians when families are referred by their doctor. Our schools need to be safe places for children's education, health and well-being - not another place for food businesses to boost sales. Parents need more information about what their kids are putting in their bodies. That is why I am introducing these bills," said Ortiz.