News Picture: Weight-Loss Surgery: Better Health, But No Cost Savings

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WEDNESDAY, Nov. 6, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Weight-loss surgery has many benefits for obese patients, but it might not cut the cost of their overall health care, a new study finds.

Called bariatric surgery, these procedures help patients lose weight by restricting the size of the stomach, thus limiting how much someone can eat.

Surgery not only leads to significant weight loss, but also to better survival and better health. However, the cost of the operation and follow-up care can be expensive.

For the study, a team led by Dr. Matthew Maciejewski, of the Durham VA Medical Center and Duke University, compared more than 10 years of data on 2,500 obese Veterans Affairs (VA) patients who had bariatric surgery with about 7,500 VA obese patients who didn’t.

The researchers found that patients who had surgery didn’t have lower health care costs.

In addition, the findings showed that patients who had surgery had higher costs in the six to 12 months before and in the first two years after surgery.

In the year before surgery, health care costs were $1,400 more for those who had surgery than for those who didn’t. And in the six months after surgery, costs were $3,000 higher.

Costs gradually decreased over time, and by five to 10 years after surgery, costs were similar to those who hadn’t had the operation, the researchers said in a VA news release.

The cost for drugs was lower among patients who had the surgery, but this was offset by higher outpatient expenses.

Moreover, health care costs for surgery patients never went below those of non-surgery patients.

The added cost of surgery may be due to treatment of complications of the operation, including nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

Bariatric surgery patients may also experience anemia and vitamin deficiencies that require treatment.

Other costs for surgical patients can include removing excess skin, and hip or knee replacement operations for osteoarthritis.

Also, conditions linked to obesity, such as diabetes, do not always go away after surgery and may require monitoring and follow-up.

Overall, these findings suggest that bariatric surgery improves overall health and quality of life, but doesn’t save money.

The report was published online Oct. 30 in JAMA Surgery.

— Steven Reinberg

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SOURCE: Veterans Affairs, news release, Oct. 30, 2019