Can Bariatric Surgery Save On Long Term Medical Costs?

Kirsty at RealSelf on 28 Sep 2010 at 10:50am

Growing up in the United Kingdom, I sometimes take for granted that the National Health System (NHS) covers most medical requirements, including weight loss surgery. It's easy for me to look past the cost of things, because I never see a cost. Sure, a small amount comes out of my paycheck each month; however, that's nothing compared to medical costs or even medical insurance costs in the US.

So, reading an article recently on the amount of money that the NHS could potentially save by providing bariatric surgery to morbidly obese patients got me thinking. Can we really use weight loss surgery as a prevention for other obesity-related illnesses, and would this save us money? The answer is yes. In the UK, it could save the NHS and wider British economy billions each year, says a recent report written by the Office of Health Economics, an independent consultancy, and funded by health firms Allergan and Covidien.

We all know that gaining too much weight isn’t good for us and as a result we try to watch what we eat, exercise, and generally maintain a healthy weight. However, for approximately one million people in Britain who are classed as morbidly obese, it isn’t that easy.

For those classed as morbidly obese, exercise becomes unrealistic, working is increasingly difficult--meaning more time at home in front of the TV--and food is whatever requires the least amount of effort. Obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and breathing difficulties become more likely, which puts a bigger strain on NHS resources.

According to Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, patients with a BMI of 40 or more--or those with a BMI of 35 and other obesity-related illnesses--should be assessed for bariatric surgery. This preventative care would lead to significant medical savings over the life of the patient, according to the OHE study.

So, by giving an obese individual weight loss surgery, we could save billions of pounds per year in GP time, hospital usage, doctors'/nurses' time and drugs.

If we can do this in the UK, the question then remains: Can it be duplicated in countries with huge obesity-related medical costs such as the US?