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Bill of Rights Explained

The idea for a bill of rights for Americans traces back more than 60 years. It started in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to Congress promoting four basic rights of consumers – to be safe, to be informed, to choose, and to be heard. These rights became what is known as the Consumer Bill of Rights and formed the foundation of federal consumer protection laws in the U.S.

But these protections are not sufficient when Americans need medical treatment. Accordingly, in 1973, the American Hospital Association introduced “A Patients Bill of Rights” with a set of 15 guarantees for anyone seeking care in a U.S. hospital. This set the stage for the American Medical Association to add a set of patient rights to the AMA Code of Medical Ethics and for state governments and health plans to create separate bills of rights. Another significant step forward occurred in 2010 with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which codified a Patients Bill of Rights into law that mandates important protections for health care coverage when people seek medical care.

What do these bills of rights have in common? All are intended to ensure that patients receive fair and respectful care from screening and diagnosis through every stage of the treatment of a disease, infection, illness or injury. Bills of rights also encourage patients to take part in their health care through a process in which physicians speak openly and respectfully about the person’s diagnosis, treatment options, costs, what insurance will cover, and individual privacy rights. Thus, an important element of a bill of rights is informed consent, meaning the person has the right to gather information on the state of his or her health, ask questions about treatment options, and make an informed decision, even if it goes against the physician’s recommendation.

Recognizing the importance of a bill of rights to improve medical care for patients, medical societies and organizations have produced bills of rights for people with disabilities, mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders. Similarly, a number of disease-specific organizations have established a set of rights for Americans with certain serious chronic diseases – from diabetes and cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.

Unfortunately, however, the more than 100 million adults with obesity do not have a bill of rights and continue to encounter a healthcare system that is working against them. As such, they remain stigmatized, discriminated against, not treated with respect by their health providers, and face significant hurdles and burdensome requirements to receive care.

On behalf of these Americans, the National Consumers League and the National Council on Aging say enough! Now is the time to give people with obesity a bill of rights that starts with the recognition that obesity is a treatable disease and that everyone with obesity deserves the same level of attention and care as those with other chronic conditions.

Simply put, overcoming the barriers to quality obesity care requires changing how people with obesity think about themselves, empowering them to be equal partners with their health providers in decisions about their care, and mobilizing them as advocates to demand the same quality care and access to treatments as patients with the 230 chronic conditions where obesity is a significant factor. This is what an Obesity Bill of Rights can make possible.

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National Consumers League
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T: (202) 835-3323