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Weight-Loss Surgery Won't Cut Obesity-Related Medical Costs: Study

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Although weight-loss surgery is effective in helping patients shed a considerable amount of weight, the procedure does not reduce the costs associated with medical care for obesity, according to a new study.

After conducting a multi-year analysis of health-insurance claims, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Medicine noted that they found no evidence that one type of surgery is more likely to reduce long-term health care costs than another.

"An estimated $168 billion a year, or 16.5 percent of all U.S. health care expenditures, is spent to treat obesity and obesity-associated diseases," study lead author Jonathan Weiner, a professor of health policy and management at the Bloomberg School, said in a university news release. "As the weight of Americans continues to increase, so too does the strain on our health care system."

"Given this trend -- and the ever-increasing rate that [weight-loss] surgery is being performed -- we felt it was important to measure the impact of health care costs associated with this type of surgery," he added.

In conducting the study, the researchers compared the insurance claims of more than 29,000 patients covered by Blue Cross/Blue Shield who underwent weight-loss surgery between January 2002 and December 2008 with the claims of a similar group of people who did not have the surgery.

After tracking the insurance claims of both groups for seven years, the researchers found that two and three years after weight-loss surgery, the total medical costs of those who had the procedure were greater than the total costs of the group that did not have the surgery.

Four years after surgery, however, the researchers noted the medical costs of both groups were similar. They pointed out, however, that the weight-loss-surgery group had lower expenditures associated with prescriptions and office visits, but higher inpatient costs. The study authors added that any reductions in medical costs in the first few years after laparoscopic surgery were not sustained in the long term.

"The results of our study are important because they demonstrate that bariatric surgery does not lower overall health care costs in the long term and we found no evidence that any one type of surgery is more likely to reduce long-term health care costs," concluded Weiner. "Future studies should focus on the potential benefit of improved health and well-being of patients undergoing the procedure rather than on cost savings."

The study was published in the Feb. 20 online edition of the journal JAMA Surgery.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about weight-loss surgery.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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