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Weight-Loss Surgery May Trim Health Care Costs
Study found people, especially diabetes patients, spent far less on doctors, drugs after procedure
-- Robert Preidt

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 4, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Weight-loss surgery may save health care dollars down the road, a new study suggests.

Researchers report that there was a sharp drop in medical spending by obese patients after they had the so-called "bariatric" procedure.

"The main reduction in costs were related to fewer hospital admissions and clinic visits, and a reduction in the use of prescription drugs for diabetes, [high blood pressure] and heart disease," said study co-author Dr. John Morton, chief of bariatric and minimally invasive surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Costs were higher across the board for [obese] patients who did not have bariatric surgery, showing there is an even higher cost to not treating obesity," added Morton, who is also president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).

In the study, the researchers compared 823 obese people who had a type of weight-loss surgery called laparoscopic gastric bypass with 786 obese people who did not have weight-loss surgery.

In each of the four years after weight-loss surgery, the patients' health care costs fell by 12 percent, 28 percent, 37 percent and 35 percent, respectively, the findings showed.

There were even larger drops in health care costs for those who had type 2 diabetes: 23 percent, 49 percent, 61 percent and 69 percent, respectively.

Health care costs for those who had weight-loss surgery were nearly $7,600 less per patient over four years than for those who did not have the surgery, a savings of nearly 40 percent, according to the study authors.

And, the authors added, among patients with diabetes, health care costs for those who had weight-loss surgery were about $22,600 less per patient over four years than for those who did not have the surgery, a savings of 78 percent.

In addition, the researchers found that about 70 percent of patients with diabetes also saw a remission of their disease after surgery.

The average cost of the weight-loss surgery in the study was just over $25,200, according to the report.

The findings are to be presented Wednesday at Obesity Week, a meeting in Los Angeles hosted by the ASMBS and The Obesity Society. Study findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"The findings show treating obesity has important health benefits that translate into real cost savings," Dr. Robin Blackstone, chief of bariatric and metabolic surgery at Banner-University Medical Center in Phoenix, said in an Obesity Week news release.

"Bariatric surgery saves lives and money, and is one of the best investments patients and their insurers can make," added Blackstone, who was not involved in the study.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about weight-loss surgery.

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