Researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality -- which sponsored study -- examined more than 2,500 insurance claims for bariatric weight loss surgeries performed in 2001 and 2002. They found a 22 percent complication rate occurred in the hospital directly after the surgery. But that number rose to complications in 40 percent of the patients over the next six months.
Complications include "dumping syndrome," which involves vomiting, diarrhea and reflux; leaks from surgically joining the intestine and stomach; hernias; pneumonia and infections. While such complications are painful, they also come with a significant price increase over that paid by patients who experience no such side effects. Patients with complications paid an average of $36,542, while those without complications averaged a $25,337 bill. If patients had to be hospitalized for their complications, their costs rose to $65,031.
"These additional medical utilizations are expensive," says lead author William Encinosa. "Insurance companies could save a lot of money if they could reduce these complications."
While bariatric surgeons and proponents of the radical procedure say stricter surgical guidelines have lowered complications in recent years, critics of the surgery say weight loss can be achieved in a much safer and less expensive manner through following a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise.
Consumer health advocate Mike Adams, a critic of bariatric surgery, calls the procedure a, "stomach lobotomy that leaves patients maimed for life" and has called for the outlawing of the procedure.