Weight loss surgery doesn't shed long-term costs

Insurers aren't saving much money by covering weight loss operations like gastric bypass surgery because patients undergoing the procedure don't see fewer healthcare expenses afterward.

A new study published in the journal Archives of Surgery shows that bariatric surgery among older men doesn't lead to a reduction in medical costs in the three years after the operation, reported The New York Times.

After comparing 847 patients undergoing weight loss surgery with 847 people who didn't have the operation, the study found that the bypass patients' medical expenses were higher than the controls' expenses by about $4,400 for three years, Medical News Today reported.

That finding contradicts previous studies that looked at younger, mostly female patients two to five years after similar surgeries; such literature has pressured insurers to cover these procedures because it lowers long-term healthcare costs and offsets the actual surgery cost. However, because roughly 113,000 patients undergo bariatric surgery, which costs from $17,000 to $30,000, insurers might want to reconsider coverage of the operation.

"This article suggests that doing bariatric surgery is not a no-brainer," said Thomas Hoerger, a health economist who studied bariatric surgery for scientific institute RTI but wasn't involved in the new study. "This may slow the movement toward bariatric surgery somewhat. Don't expect that it's going to pay for itself," he told Reuters Health.

The study authors, however, acknowledged that researchers should observe patients for longer periods post operation. "We are doing another study to follow this cohort an additional five or six years," Matthew Maciejewski, study author and research career scientist at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, told the Times. "It may be the case that if we follow them longer, we'll see the cost reduction that others have found."

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- see the Reuters Health article
- check out the Medical News Today article