Study: Bariatric surgery repays cost within two to four years

Though it typically costs between $17,000 and $26,000, gastric bypass surgery's costs are typically offset within two to four years by saving on other forms of medical care, according to a new journal article published in the American Journal of Managed Care. In the study, the authors divided up 3,651 largely female, severely obese patients in a claims database, matching those who had had the surgery with those that didn't, for factors including age, gender, geography, health status and baseline costs.

The analysis, which covered six months of presurgical evaluation, the surgery and 18 months of postsurgical care, included costs from surgical complications, payments for prescription drugs, doctor visits and hospital services. Researchers concluded that insurers fully recovered the cost of laparascopic surgery (at about $17,000) within 25 months. Traditional bariatric surgery costs ($26,000) were repaid within 49 months.

These findings put further pressure on health plans, many of which specifically exclude weight-loss surgery despite mounting evidence that it treats not only obesity, but also related illnesses such as diabetes. These plans often exclude not only gastric bypasses, but also less costly laparascopic banding.

Of course, one major issue is that the study was paid for by Johnson & Johnson, whose Ethicon Endo-Surgery unit makes devices used in such surgeries. The author, Pierre Yves Cremieux, a health economist at a Boston economic consulting firm, swears that the device maker had no part in his conclusions and didn't get involved in the study.

To learn more about the study:
- read this Wall Street Journal piece (sub. req.)

Related Articles:
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MI data suggests weight-loss surgery getting safer
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