$363,000,000 Spent on Military Weight Loss Surgery

MakenzieR on 11 Nov 2011 at 3:00pm

The military spent $363,000,000 of taxpayer money on weight loss surgery for troops and dependents from 2001-2010, Seattle's KIRO 7 Eyewitness News recently reported. It's said to include “post-surgery tummy tucks, offered to about a third of the patients.” The piece comes off a bit incendiary, but fails to point out one key fact.

The missing link is that many private insurance companies will cover weight loss surgery if someone has a BMI over 35.  Not only that, but according to RealSelf plastic surgeons, some will also cover a panniculectomy, or the removal of excess fat and skin due to massive weight loss.  According to Dr. George Marosan, it’s performed by general surgeons who “like to call this a tummy tuck,” though he points out it is not a full TT.

The exposé also quotes someone posting on a web forum who says “I’m having an eyebrow life [sic] and upper eyelid blepharoplasty. Thankfully, it’s not considered cosmetic so Tricare [the military health insurance] is covering it.”

Again, no mention that if you pass some rigorous tests, private insurance will likely cover this procedure for non-military. “In these cases, the upper eyelid surgery is performed for functional improvement, and therefore is ‘reconstructive’ and not cosmetic in nature,” says Dr. Athleo Cambre.

Of course it’s possible there’s a conspiracy in military hospitals to abuse the system by claiming things are medically necessary instead of cosmetic.  But if that’s the point KIRO is trying to make, they should be exposing that information.  We don’t know if all these reported procedures were truly medically necessary.  But how do we know they weren’t?  

Photo: Army Times via In Your Face

Comments (11)

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This article is bs. I have Tricare and it doesn't pay for cosmetic surgeries. It doesn't even cover chiropractic care.
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Thanks for the feedback!  I wish insurance would pay for BBL's myself! ;)  LOL 

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Well my hubby is in the military. Going on 9 years & I can't seam2 get nothing no lap band, side surgery etc... So not all of us are abusing the system. If that was the case I would of had a BBL done years ago! & claimed it as extreme flat but syndrome lmao! Let me stop. Some of us struggle just like civilian's. Tricare in my opinion is to freaking on top their biz 2 let us slip by for cosmic surgery. But this is just my opinion.
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We're talking about Tricare, right? It's insurance. I don't get the outrage at insurance companies offering WLS, military or not (yes, I get that it's subsidised by the government). What am I missing?

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There are risks with every surgery, that is why you sign forms agreeing to it. I do everything I can to avoid any type of surgical procedure. I truly wish that people would take a true assessment of their lifestyle and make a serious attempt at a slow and steady lifestyle change. We live in a fast paced world where now you can just drive up to a window to get food, bank, even the pharmacy..you don't even have to get out of your car. Our food is being modified, there are hormones in our milk and meats, yet no one puts up a fuss. We need to really ask ourselves how all of this is happening, and what can I do about it to change the outcome and become healthy???
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OH MY GOSH.... that is shocking.  I can understand many active military troops wouldn't get the weight loss surgery because they exercise pretty frequently on duty, and can probably more easily maintain their weight.  Also, they have the pressure from their superiors to remain in shape.

 

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This is a very interesting article, I would have never believed that so much of taxpayers' dollars were spent on these surgeries.  I think it is a nice benefit for the troops... but their dependents?  I am curious to know the percentage of dependents taking advantage of this offer versus the actual military personnel. 

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Direct quote from KIRO article:

"As for the $363 million spent on dependents, Madigan doctors estimate about 80 percent of the surgeries are for medically obese or morbidly obese military wives. Military dependent men do get bariatric surgery, but it’s a small percentage. The other 20 percent of the cases are done for qualified, retired veterans, like former Army nurse, Lieutenant Colonel Pat Schommer."

Apparently the military banned weight loss surgery for active-duty troops in 2007, although KIRO says 2.4 mil was spent on active-duty troops since 2001, and they discovered 57 cases where active duty troops were approved for WLS post-2007.

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It's great to see the other side of the story represented here. Yes, bariatric surgery costs money (avg. $14,400 according to self-reported prices on RealSelf). But it also saves money. Bariatric surgery often cures diabetes, which is an expensive and health-sapping disease that otherwise would last a lifetime. And when a third of the adult population is obese, and obesity-related healthcare costs are estimated at $147 billion (according to the CDC), suddenly a $14,400 treatment that would prevent many of these future expenses doesn't seem so bad, does it?

Thanks for giving equal coverage to the medically-necessary side of the debate.

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Using a dangerous surgery to "cure" diabetes?? I know 2 people who had this type of surgery, and it did not "cure" anything. They gained alot of the weight back. It is about permanent lifestyle changes. Everyone wants a quick fix. You have to change your lifestyle..from one who knows.
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I don't agree that it's dangerous, provided the patient is qualified for the procedure and aware of the risks.  The national mortality rate for gastric bypass, for example, is 0.2%-0.5%. As with any surgery, patients should weigh (no pun intended) that risk against their current, obesity-related health problems and decide if the surgery is right for them.

Unfortunately, WLS doesn't send diabetes into remission 100% of the time -- I have read 85-90% remission rates for gastric bypass. And you're correct, it does require lifestyle changes and is FAR from a quick fix. I wouldn't want to imply otherwise. :) But for the right candidate, IMHO it can create a significant, life-saving change.

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