For the last few days, I’ve been pondering how I feel about health insurance paying for gastric bypass surgery. My first reaction is ‘no way!’ I don’t want to be subsidizing the cost of this surgery with my health insurance premiums. I tend to take a very hard-line approach to the current obesity crisis. It’s not rocket science. If you eat more than you burn off, you’ll gain weight. If you burn off more than you eat, you’ll lose weight. This is true for everyone. What varies is the speed at which various bodies burn off calories and store fat. Metabolic rate differs greatly from one person to another. And generally a sedentary lifestyle leads to a lower metabolism, creating a downward spiral of increasing weight and decreasing metabolism.
Bariatric surgery is usually only recommended for patients who have a BMI of at least 40, and who have been obese for at least 5 years. These are people who have tried multiple times to lose weight on their own, and it hasn’t worked. In an ideal world, they would be able to lose weight without surgery, and my first reaction is to tell them to eat less and move more. But in reality, if they’ve been obese for several years, the chances of them suddenly gaining the knowledge, motivation, and support system to make the weight loss happen is slim. So what happens instead is that they gradually begin to need more and more medical treatment for health problems that stem from their weight. Diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression are just a few of the many health problems caused by or exacerbated by being obese. If bariatric surgery can finally be the way that they lose weight, then maybe the cost of the surgery is outweighed by the prevention and reversal of all the weight-related health issues. Of course there are risks involved with baraitric surgery – no surgery is without risk. But there are huge risks to being morbidly obese too.
I am a very strong advocate for people taking control of their own health, and maintaining it with nutritious food and lots of exercise. But I recognize that each of us has our own battles to fight, and for a lot of people, weight is one of those battles. I think that bariatric surgery should be a last resort, but it pretty much always is. And if it will prevent someone from having a quadruple bypass surgery five years down the road, or will allow them to live without medication for diabetes, then it’s worthwhile for health insurance to cover it.
Since gastric surgery should be a last resort, I would advocate having health insurance policies in Colorado pay for an intensive ‘old fashioned’ weight loss program before resorting to surgery. If that worked, the cost of the surgery could be avoided along with the future health complications that stem for obesity.