Should Employers Pay for Bariatric Surgery?

Would you foot the bill for someones weight loss surgery?

There's no doubt that bariatric surgery and weight loss surgery in general has helped hundreds of thousands around the world achieve the weight loss they desire. However, a question arises when an individual decides that they need this type of surgery, which includes the typical Lap-Band procedure or other types of Gastric Band surgery like the Realize band, at the expense of others like employers and even taxpayers. This is the problem that many county and state governments as well as other private sector employers all throughout the United States face as they try to increase productivity from their workers, keep healthcare costs low, and maintain a general sense of well-being throughout the workforce.

Collin County's Obesity Surgery Dilemma

An example of this bariatric procedure problem is Collin County, Texas. Collin County decided to cover the cost of obesity surgery in order to not only combat the obesity problem, but also lower long-term healthcare costs that come as a result of complications from being obese or morbidly obese. The problem, however, is that Collin County, Texas, is self-insured and pays health insurance benefits to their employees through the general budget fund. In essence, this means that taxpayers ultimately have to pick up the price tag for these Lap-Band procedures and bariatric surgeries, which some Collin County officials have said has been overused.

Strict Requirements for Bariatric Surgery

As of the beginning of 2009 more than 150 Collin County, Texas, employees have had bariatric procedures including mostly Lap-Band surgery. In addition to the debate about stopping the coverage of weight loss surgery, the County also imposed more stringent requirements on those obesity patients who decide that they want the surgery. For example, Collin County now requires that at least a year of nutrition counseling is required before Lap-Band surgery or any other bariatric surgery will be covered so as to prevent the surgery from happening in the first place.

What Employers Can Do

There are many other employers throughout the United States that may either be self-insured or in some way may pick up the cost, at least partially, for Lap-Band surgery and other bariatric procedures of their employees. Instead of dropping the coverage of Gastric Band and bariatric surgeries altogether, employers should consider alternatives that they can offer employees which will achieve the same goals. For example, employers should consider making available free gym memberships or even have fitness centers on-site so that employees can make use of them. Nutrition counseling is also another option that employers need to consider offering or reductions in health benefit costs based on achieving specific health goals such as lower cholesterol or blood pressure.

In addition to targeting obesity on the surface with programs such as nutrition counseling and free gym memberships, employers also need to consider helping employees with personal problems. This may entail paying a salary for an on-site psychotherapist so that therapy can be available for those that need it! An option such as this would certainly have the possibility of preventing obesity in the first place, which would make Lap-Band and other bariatric procedures unnecessary in most cases.

Price of Bariatric Surgery

There are many arguments for employer coverage of bariatric surgery in general, and there's no doubt that its coverage helps both the employee and the employer. However, Lap-Band surgery cost upwards of $25,000 so it's easy to see how the cost of coverage would quickly add up for employers. However, the other alternative options as discussed above should all be combined in order to prevent obesity and promote a general sense of healthy living altogether! If the county took the time to crunch the numbers and figure out what obesity costs an average employee in terms of cost of medicine, unscheduled days off, other complications like GERD, Hypertension, Sleep apnea etc. they may discover that $25,000 over the tenure of an average employee may be a reasonable cost and potentially a cost savings. What has happened is that the local government is caving in to comments and criticism from residents who do not have weight issues and whose comments equate to ignorant remarks such as "If they want to lose weight all they have to do is stop eating". Comments they probably do not make when it comes to smoking or the consumption of alcohol.

For Collin County employees, though, time is running out for the time to be treated with the Lap-Band and other such bariatric surgeries. Even though there are obesity patients who truly need the surgery in order to shed the pounds, the ones who don't absolutely need it but still are treated with it are the ones being called into question.