BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – HONOLULU – Hawaii wants doctors to start measuring kids’ body fat, which will be recorded and sent to the local Obamacare exchange. Health insurance companies would be required to cover the expense.

Under a proposal gaining momentum in the Hawaii State Legislature, parents would be required to submit their children — 2 to 18 — to a Body Mass Index measurement when visiting a doctor.

Senate Health Committee Chair Josh Green, an emergency room doctor in Kona, introduced the measure with support from fellow Senate Democrats Suzanne Chun Oakland, Roz Baker, Russ Ruderman, Maile Shimabukuro and Laura Thielen.

Senate Health and Human Services Chair Suzanne Chun Oakland said she signed on to the legislation because it will help students to improve their Body Mass Index if they need to, and could prevent them from becoming overweight later in life. She said obesity can lead to diabetes and other medical conditions. “This is just another tool to help our young people,” Chun Oakland said.

Dr. David Sakamoto, deputy director of health resources for the state Department of Health, says Hawaii has an obesity problem, which leads to chronic disease. Clinically assessed and electronically transmitted data on body fat would “enhance public health surveillance capacity,” Sakamoto said.

Hawaii was ranked as the healthiest state in 2013, according to America’s Health Rankings, for having “low rates of uninsured individuals, high rates of childhood immunization, and low rates of obesity, smoking and preventable hospitalizations,” but could improve its “higher than average rates of binge drinking and occupational fatalities and lower than average rates of high school graduation.”

Sakamoto, however, claims Hawaii’s adult population is relatively unhealthy — 82 percent of adults are battling at least one chronic disease, 53 percent are fighting two or more, and 31.5 percent have three or more.

Hawaii spends an annual $470 million on obesity-related medical costs, Sakamoto said, and another $770 million on diabetes-related medical costs.

“All Hawaii residents share the burden of chronic disease in terms of quality and length of life as well as their pocketbooks,” Sakamoto said. Obesity counseling is now “a required benefit” under the Affordable Care Act and requiring Body Measurement Index screening by physicians and pediatricians “will help identify children who can utilize this new benefit.”

Tracking people when they’re young will likely determine obesity in adulthood.

The bill got little public attention. Besides the state health department testimony, just a handful of people testified in support, none in opposition.

Hawaii resident Leimomi Khan supports the bill. She cites a National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality study that says “approximately 34,000 of 128,000 Hawaii children between 10 and 17 years old — or 26.9 percent — are considered overweight or obese according to BMI-for-age standards.”

“With the high cost of nutritional foods, clearly low-income communities are probably the most affected,” Khan said. “The provisions of this bill would enable physicians to detect and address overweight problems at an early age.”

Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom cast the only vote opposing the bill, which passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. He’s also the only Republican in the 25-member Senate.

“As a rule, I don’t support any government mandates. This should be an issue between a physician and parents, and not government,” Slom said.

Slom takes issue with the bill data being given to the “failed Hawaii Health Connector,” the local Obamacare exchange, and that insurance would be required to cover the procedure.

“This adds to the cost of all premium payers,” Slom said. “Better choice would be to measure the fat in government and slim down.”

Green and the co-sponsors could not immediately be reached for comment, but the committee report and language in the bill details the reasons for their support.

The bill must pass the full Senate and House and gain the approval of Gov. Neil Abercrombie before it becomes law.

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