Weight-loss surgeries are accompanied by complications like abdominal cramping, hernia or pneumonia in 40% of patients in the six months after the procedure according to a recent study. Researchers have proposed that such complications often run into thousands of dollars to patients' medical bills.
This study was conducted by government economists and it is considered to be the first in-depth look at the medical costs that have been incurred in the six months after bariatric surgeries. The results of the research have been published in August's Medical Care.
Weight loss surgeries like gastric bypass are used to create a smaller stomach. It is performed on very obese people, about 100 or more pounds over a healthy weight laparoscopically or in open surgery. The average cost is $25,000.
On examining the insurance claims from 2,522 people who had weight-loss surgeries, most of which were gastric bypass done with the open surgery the researchers revealed the following findings. Almost 22% of the patients reported a complication during their initial hospital stay.
An overall 18% of the patients had to return to the hospital within six months because of complications. The researchers found that the patients were either seen as an outpatient, readmitted or treated in the emergency room.
Complications such as leakage problems were reported at the site of the connection between the stomach and the intestine.
Medical bills for those with complications ran into an average of $36,500, compared with around $25,000 for those with no complications.
Those re-admitted to the hospital were found to have Medical bills averaging about $65,000.
Medical coverage for gastric bypass or gastric banding varied widely among different insurance companies. Medicare covers both surgeries under certain conditions.
According to lead author William Encinosa, a senior economist with the Agency for health care Research and Quality, "This is a complex surgery, and for the year after the surgery there will be potential complications that could be costly."
Of course research does show that people who have had procedures such as gastric bypass lose and keep off an average of 44 to 66 pounds for up to 10 years. Advantages such as elimination or improvement of ailments like diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and hypertension were also observed. Diseases like diabetes often involved expenses of at least $4,000 a year in treatment and management.
Agency director Carolyn Clancy said,"The cost of these complications from the surgeries is high, but the cost of the diseases related to obesity is also high."
Harvey Sugerman, former president of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery, added, "The data used in the study is several years old, and now the vast majority of patients undergo the laparoscopic procedure, which reduces the rate of complications."