Updated

What to Know About Medicare and Weight Loss Programs

Written by 
Molly Burford
Reviewed by 
Natalia Klusacek, APN
Article at a glance
  • Original Medicare does not cover most weight loss programs. However, Original Medicare may provide coverage for preventive services. For example, Medicare covers obesity screenings, behavioral counseling, and other health services if a Medicare beneficiary meets the eligibility requirements.

  • Many Medicare Advantage plans or Medigap plans may help cover the costs of weight loss programs. Some plans may also include weight loss counseling as one of its added benefits.

Losing weight can be a difficult process, both emotionally and physically. Because of this, having solid support is vital for losing excess weight successfully. For many people, this may mean joining a weight loss program. But does Medicare cover weight loss programs? 

In short, Medicare will not cover most weight loss programs. That said, Medicare covers preventative services, such as obesity screenings, to help someone maintain a healthy weight. Learn more about weight loss programs, weight management, and Medicare below.

What is a Weight Loss Program?

A conventional weight loss program is one that combines nutritional counseling, exercise, and behavioral therapy to address weight loss. 

Some well-known weight loss programs include: 

  • WW (Formally Weight Watchers)

  • Flexitarian Diet

  • Atkins Diet

  • Noom

  • Jenny Craig

Does Medicare Cover Weight Loss Programs?

In most cases, Medicare doesn’t cover weight loss programs, weight loss services, or weight loss medications. This includes: 

  • Meal delivery services

  • Programs (WW, Noom, etc.)

  • FDA-approved diet pills or medications

  • Gym memberships and other fitness programs

That said, Original Medicare covers preventative services for weight loss, such as behavioral counseling, so long as a beneficiary meets certain criteria.

What Are Weight Loss Preventive Services?

Original Medicare may provide coverage for obesity behavioral therapy, medical nutrition therapy, and some bariatric surgery procedures. However, eligibility requirements will vary for each service. 

Obesity Behavioral Therapy

Obesity behavioral therapy consists of an obesity screening, a dietary assessment, and nutrition counseling as a means of helping someone lose weight. These preventive services focus primarily on diet and exercise. 

Eligibility requirements include: 

  • A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher 

  • The counseling must be performed in a primary care setting

If all of the aforementioned is true, Medicare Part B covers obesity behavioral therapy. Total costs are usually $0 so long as the yearly Medicare Part B deductible has been met. As well, the primary care physician (PCP) or other health care professional must accept the Medicare assignment in order for it to be covered.

Note: Learn more about obesity behavioral therapy and Medicare coverage at this resource.

Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT)

Medical nutrition therapy (MNT) consists of the following:

  • Initial nutrition and lifestyle assessment

  • Individual and/​or group nutritional therapy services

  • Assistance with lifestyle factors that affect diabetes

  • Follow-up visits to check diet management progress

Medicare Part B may cover MNT and related services so long as eligibility requirements are met. Eligibility requirements include: 

  • Diabetes

  • Kidney disease

  • A kidney transplant within the last 36 months

If all of the aforementioned is true, Medicare Part B covers MNT. Since MNT is considered a preventive service, there is no co-payment for this service. As well, the Medicare Part B deductible does not apply.

Note: Learn more about medical nutrition therapy services and Medicare coverage at this resource.

Weight Loss Surgery 

Many bariatric surgical procedures are covered by Medicare, so long as they are deemed medically necessary. Some bariatric surgical procedures that are covered include gastric bypass surgery and laparoscopic banding surgery. 

Medicare beneficiaries must meet certain conditions that are related to morbid obesity to be covered. Such criteria include: 

  • A BMI of 35 or above

  • At least one co-morbidity related to obesity

  • Previously unsuccessful with medical treatment for obesity

Weight loss surgeries for aesthetic reasons are not covered.

Note: Learn more about bariatric surgery and Medicare coverage at this resource.

Do Medicare Advantage Plans Cover Weight Loss Programs?

A Medicare Advantage plan, also known as an MA plan or Medicare Part C, has the same covered services as Original Medicare since Medicare Part C bundles both Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B. That said, a Medicare Advantage plan typically has additional benefits and coverage. This may include fitness programs, weight management services, prescription drug coverage, and other wellness programs. Medicare beneficiaries should contact their insurance company to learn more.

Do Other Medicare Supplement Plans Cover Weight Loss Programs?

Medicare supplement plans, also known as Medigap or MedSupp, are policies that fill in the gaps” of Original Medicare, providing a more comprehensive health care plan. Like MA plans, Medigap plans may help cover the costs for weight management services and fitness programs. Medicare beneficiaries should contact their insurance company to learn more.

Tips for Weight Loss

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, there are a number of best practices for choosing a weight loss program.

  • Talking openly and honestly with a health care provider, primary care doctor, or other health care professional about any weight concerns

  • Starting a weight loss program that focuses on lifestyle habits (not just diet)

  • Finding a routine that can be stuck to long-term

  • Staying patient and practicing self-compassion

Become a patient

Experience the Oak Street Health difference, and see what it’s like to be treated by a care team who are experts at caring for older adults.

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