Medicare Advisory Panel Concludes Weight Loss Surgery Safe and Effective for Morbidly Obese Patients

Medicare Advisory Panel Concludes Weight Loss Surgery Safe and Effective for Morbidly Obese Patients

BALTIMORE, Nov. 5 /PRNewswire/ -- The Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC) concluded that there is significant scientific evidence supporting the safety and effectiveness of open and laparoscopic weight loss surgery and its ability to improve a number of life-threatening obesity related conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in the general adult population. They added that more research is needed, however, in people 65 and older.

"We are pleased that the MCAC panel has so decisively affirmed the safety and effectiveness of open and laparoscopic weight loss surgery and we look forward to working with Medicare to help them provide the best coverage and gather the best data on individuals 65 and older, without limiting the access to care for people who are morbidly obese," said Harvey Sugerman, MD, President, American Society for Bariatric Surgery (ASBS) and Emeritus Professor of Surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

The MCAC recommendations will not affect current Medicare policy, which covers weight loss surgery for morbidly obese patients with an obesity-related or co-morbid condition. A change in Medicare coverage criteria requires a request for a new National Coverage Decision, which the Society will be submitting to improve the consistency of coverage.

In July, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) removed language in the Medicare Coverage Issues Manual stating that obesity was not an illness.

The MCAC meeting comes on the heels of a report issued by HHS'' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHQR) who concluded that weight loss surgery for morbidly obese patients who have tried and failed to lose weight with exercise and diet may be more effective for weight reduction and improve control of obesity-related illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

The MCAC panel reviewed data including a recent study published in October in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that found that weight loss surgery improved or eliminated diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and high cholesterol in the vast majority of morbidly obese patients.

In this meta-analysis, researchers systematically reviewed over 130 studies that included more than 22,000 weight loss surgery patients and reported on the impact weight loss surgery had on these four obesity-related conditions.

Another study of more than 1,000 gastric bypass surgery patients published in the Annals of Surgery in September showed those that had surgery had 89 percent fewer deaths more than five years after surgery, compared with morbidly obese patients who did not have surgery. The study is entitled "Surgery Decreases Long-Term Mortality in Morbidly Obese Patients."

In addition, a major study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons in October, showed that after one year, survival was improved by 33% for those that had weight loss surgery versus those that did

not. In the longer term, after 15 years, 11.8% of the operated patients had died, compared to 16.3% of the non-operated group.

Medicare data from 2003 shows that the 30-day risk of death from weight loss surgery was 0.8% compared to total joint replacement which was 2% and coronary bypass surgery which was 3%.

Morbid obesity is defined as 100 or more pounds overweight or a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more. More than 140,000 people will undergo weight loss or bariatric surgery this year and about 8 million people in the U.S. are morbidly obese.

Two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight or obese. Government reports list obesity as the second leading cause of preventable death, killing about 400,000 Americans each year.

Potentially fatal diseases such as Type II diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma, stroke and several forms of cancer are on the rise throughout the world and have been associated with obesity. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that obesity-related diseases account for more than 2.5 million deaths per year worldwide.

"Weight loss surgery is a major operation for a significant health problem," Dr. Sugerman said. "The risks and benefits should be carefully considered by the surgeon, the patient and the patient''s family."

The ASBS is the largest organization for bariatric surgeons in the world. It is a non-profit organization that works to advance the art and science of bariatric surgery and is committed to educating medical professionals and the lay public alike about bariatric surgery as an option for the treatment of morbid obesity, as well as the associated risks and benefits. It encourages its members to investigate and discover new advances in bariatric surgery, while maintaining a steady exchange of experiences and ideas that may lead to improved surgical outcomes for morbidly obese patients. For more information about the ASBS, visit

American Society for Bariatric Surgery

CONTACT: Roger Kissin, 1-212-527-7533, for American Society for Bariatric Surgery