Got flab? Stress? Health coaches want to help

Obamacare covers sessions with certified weight-loss counselors

  • HealthIllusBase-2-10


  • ORLANDO, Fla. — Like many working moms, advertising executive Regina Camplin put work and family ahead of personal wellness.

    “After I had my second child, work was crazy breakneck. I was traveling and struggling to find myself in all of that,” said the 38-year-old mother of two daughters, ages 4 and 5.

    That changed two years ago when the Oviedo, Fla., woman started working with certified health coach Nicole Copare, who helped Camplin lose weight, get stronger and find some balance in her life.

    A relatively new profession — at least in name — health coaches are part weight-loss counselor, part personal trainer and part motivational expert. The field is growing rapidly thanks to a big boost from the new health-care law.

    Obamacare requires private insurance companies to cover “intensive behavioral counseling for obesity” for adults beginning in 2014. That coverage has to be without any co-pay from patients. Medicare already covers obesity counseling for Americans older than 65.

    Sessions with a certified health coach would qualify. The American Council on Exercise, the accrediting agency best known for certifying personal trainers, began offering health-coach certifications in October 2012. Since then it has become “the fastest growing certification we have ever seen,” said Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for ACE.

    Today, the council has 2,600 certified health coaches, including 128 in Florida, Bryant said.

    Coaches differ from personal trainers in key ways, he said. Personal trainers focus on helping individuals with their exercise and physical activity. They conduct fitness assessments, then design exercise programs. Health coaches take a more holistic view and factor in what else is going on in clients’ lives, including work, family, stress levels and diet.

    “Most people know what they should be doing,” Bryant said. “The secret sauce is to translate that knowledge into activity that leads to sustainable change.”

    Camplin, who has had a personal trainer before, says working with a health coach is better. “Nicole takes it beyond how much do I weigh and how far can I run, to, if I don’t feel right, asking me what’s changed in my life.”

    Since she began working out with Copare, Camplin has lost “at least 20 pounds,” but more important to her is what she’s gained. “I found a way to fit it all in.”

    The working mom pays $40 out of pocket for each 30-minute session, which she attends two to three times a week. “I have to invest in lifestyle changes, otherwise I won’t get results,” she said.

    Beyond the promise of coverage, Obamacare is driving the health-coach trend another way. As more Americans become insured as a result of the law, more will see primary-care doctors, who are already in short supply.

    Working mom Regina Camplin works out with health coach Nicole Copare at TV Fitness Pros in Orlando, Fla.
    Working mom Regina Camplin works out with health coach Nicole Copare at TV Fitness Pros in Orlando, Fla.

    “I am one physician with 5,000 patients in my practice,” said Dr. Steven McCarus, a gynecologist for Florida Hospital for Women at Winter Park Memorial Hospital, who relies on a health coach to do what he doesn't have time for. "I'm working at max. For me, a health coach is a way to get through my day and address problems I can't."

    The health-coach concept is still new to most physicians. When Florida Hospital for Women-Winter Park opened in October, it had one "life designer" on staff. The nurse provides a personalized approach to health and wellness. "This is very new to our Winter Park campus, so we are still working on getting more doctors to refer to it," said hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Roberts.

    Having a health coach helps doctors provide support for patients who need help dealing with chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, said Bridgette Jameson, a certified health coach who started working for a family doctor at Batson Family Health and Wellness in Longwood, Fla., last January.

    "The doctor's goal is to prescribe as little medicine as possible and treat as much as we can with lifestyle. That's where I come in," she said.

    Non-Medicare patients pay $25 for a 30-minute session. That's likely to change next year for some patients when the new law will require health insurance plans to provide more coverage, she said.

    While the notion of using health coaches is fairly new, McCarus thinks many more doctors will begin relying on them. "Health coaches help providers be proactive. In the long run we will benefit," he said.

    "As with any new concept, there are some doubting Thomases," he said. The concern is coach oversight. Doctors need to work closely with health coaches to guard against bad advice.

    However, McCarus said, that won't slow the trend. "This is the tip of the iceberg."