$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