As diabetes has reached extreme levels in the US, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is looking closely at findings that suggest that bariatric surgery can dramatically improve glycemic control and can even in some cases cure diabetes by causes significant weight loss. In a recent study that was published in the January 23, 2008 Journal of the American Medical Association, 73% of people with recently diagnosed type 2 diabetes saw their diabetes go into remission after the surgery was performed.
Recognizing that bariatric surgery is more than a cosmetic operation, CMS is now considering reimbursement plans for obese people with type 2 diabetes who are not currently eligible for the surgery. Currently, the surgeries are reimbursed in people who have BMIs above 40, which indicates severe obesity. Those that have a BMI of 35-39 as well as a related illness like diabetes, hypertension, or cardiovascular disease are also usually covered for the procedure, which can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000.
Medicare is now looking to cover diabetes patients with lower BMIs with the hopes that it will lead to
future savings in treatments. Before lower BMIs can be reimbursed, we look for changes to the NIH guidelines for bariatric surgery; currently, guidelines suggest that bariatric surgery should only be used in people who have BMIs above 40, or a BMI of 35-39 with a related illness.
However, the government will have a difficult time convincing employers and insurers to cover weight-loss surgery in patients with type 2 diabetes. There is an estimated five to ten year wait for an employer to recover surgery costs, excluding any extra visits or emergency care treatments. Critics question whether the government should be pushing surgical procedures for weight loss towards people with lower BMIs instead of renewing and revitalizing much needed educational tools and programs to help all people, not just those who are clinically obese or overweight.
While there is some truth to these criticisms, they ignore the fact that physicians are supposed to take their patients through fairly rigorous education programs before going ahead to perform such a procedure. The education is not only limited to behavior modification pre- and post-surgery, but also entails in-depth discussion (and often trials) of alternatives. In our view, it’s more a question of providing patient’s with options from which to choose the most effective method to attain the elusive “good health” that America is struggling to hold on to.