Weight Loss Surgery Rates Soar Down Under

Weight loss surgery is increasingly popular Down Under, but for the first time, the numbers show that the benefits of the procedure for the average patient fall far short of the costs for health insurance providers.

A quarter of Australians over 18 are obese, according to figures from 2008 – an increase of more than eight percent increase from three years earlier. And the demand for obesity surgery is rising even faster.

But, while it costs nearly $11,000 for gastric banding surgery – the most popular bariatric procedure in Australia – the surgery saves private insurance carriers about $7,500 over a patient’s remaining lifetime. In other words, the cost of obesity surgery outweighs the financial benefit for insurance carriers, according to recent data.

The analysis, sponsored by the Australian health insurance fund Medibank Private, found that drug treatments for obesity are more cost-effective, running $1,566 and providing a benefit of $2,174 in saved medical costs over the patient’s remaining life. Likewise, lifestyle programs that teach patients how to eat and exercise better, resulted in a savings of $2,846 after an initial treatment cost of $1,081.

On the flip side, lifestyle programs had only an 11 percent success rate, compared with 28 percent for weight loss surgery. Drug programs for the treatment of obesity showed an 8 percent success rate.

In just two years, the number of Medibank members filing claims for gastric banding or gastric bypass surgery has nearly doubled. In light of the recent findings, researchers recommend that the only patients for whom obesity surgery might be cost-effective were those who were the most severely obese.

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