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Bariatric Surgery Fails to Shrink Healthcare Costs

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 17, 2012

A study that differed dramatically with prior research of its kind has found that gastric bypass operations did not lower healthcare costs in the three years after surgery, at least in a cohort of older male patients in the Veterans Affairs Medical System, although they did save lives.

"Given that prior studies have shown lower (healthcare) cost reductions for patients who underwent bariatric surgery, I think we were quite surprised," says principal author, Matthew Maciejewski, of the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina and colleagues.

Maciejewski suggested two possible explanations:

1. Costs may eventually drop significantly, but only after three years, however the study hasn't gone on that long to determine that.

2. This patient population of older males who already had health issues differs significantly from populations of bariatric surgery patients previously studied. "It could be that their opportunity to improve their co-morbidities and reduce their risk for adverse events was harder to realize, compared to benefits in women who were younger and not as sick," he suggests. The mean age in the study group was 49.5 for surgical patients and 54.7 for non-surgical patients.

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