Bariatric surgery has been proven effective at reducing weight and also alleviating or eliminating the comorbidities associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obstructive sleep apnea – among others. Gastric bypass is so effective against diabetes that many type 2 diabetics leave the hospital following surgery on either reduced or no diabetic medications. Bariatric surgery has been hailed as the cure for obesity – and by in large has been proven effective. Naturally, physicians and surgeons thought that by improving the health of bariatric surgery patients, the costs of medical care for these individuals (and therefore the costs of care for the obese) would go down as well.
A new study released in JAMA Surgery may be raining on the bariatric surgery parade. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tracked the health insurance claims of nearly 30,000 people who had undergone bariatric surgery and compared them to obese people with the same health problems who did not have surgery. After following the patients for 6 years, they found that those who had undergone surgery had the same or higher insurance claims as compared to those who did not have surgery. One bright spot? Bariatric surgery patients had substantial savings on medication, but these savings were largely wiped out by increased inpatient hospitalization costs in the years following surgery.
The study certainly provides evidence that the touted savings of bariatric surgery may not live up to the hype, at least in the short term. Once substantial criticism of the study is that not all of the patients were followed for the full six years. However, with bariatric surgery – saving money is not the ultimate goal. Improving physical health, mental health, and quality of life of patients may be well worth the added costs. Certainly, bariatric surgery isn’t for everyone. Just like so much of medicine, this one is personal too.