Weight Loss Surgery Doesn't Cut Health Costs

Cheryl Clark, February 21, 2013

A report concluding that weight loss surgery in 29,820 obese BlueCross BlueShield enrollees did not result in lower health costs compared with similar enrollees who didn't have the procedure is being attacked by bariatric surgeons who say the research was "irresponsible."

The study, by Johns Hopkins University health economists, found that while those who had the surgery had lower costs for medication and physician's office visits up to six years later than a similarly obese group that did not undergo surgery, those reductions were overcome by much higher hospital costs in the surgery group.

"They were in the hospital more often" compared with the group that didn't have surgery, says Jonathan Weiner of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study's principal author. The study is published in JAMA Surgery.

"We didn't delve so much into why, but there are a couple of reasons. One is they could have had complications (from their original surgery), or they may have come in for related surgery, like plastic surgery after their bariatric procedure," Weiner says. "And here's a hypothesis, some are coming back in for 'good' surgery – they couldn’t get a hip or knee replacement before (because of their weight), but now they can."


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