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Affording Weight Loss Surgery and its Challenges

Updated on May 23, 2014

Understanding Obesity

Obesity currently results in an estimated 400,000 deaths a year in the United States and costs the national economy nearly $122.9 billion annually. Many people turn to diet and exercise to lose weight and get healthy. For many overweight and obese people, normal weight loss feels next to impossible.

Individuals affected by severe obesity are resistant to long-term weight-loss by diet and exercise, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. For example, a person who reduces their weight from 200 to 170 pounds will burn fewer calories than someone who weighs 170 pounds and has never been on a diet. This would mean that in order to maintain weight loss, the person who has been on a diet will have to consume fewer calories than the person who was never on a diet.

Bariatric surgery can be a life-saving procedure for the many people who have been affected by obesity, but the average surgery can run anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 in the United States as of 2014, and these prices may or may not include the cost of pre-surgical testing and lab work, anesthesiologist fees, hospital fees, and post operative care.


Obesity prevalence among males and females
Obesity prevalence among males and females | Source

Affording Bariatric Surgery

Through a lot of research over the last two years, there have been many dead-ends when it comes to affording weight loss surgery. Many sites suggest a home equity loan, a medical loan, medical financing, and loans or gifts from friends or family.

If you are one of the many people who are stuck between a rock and hard place when it comes to financing a bariatric procedure, this information doesn't help you achieve your goal. Many people are faced with credit issues, low-income, no insurance, insurance exclusions, and more. There aren't many options for people when it comes to affording a bariatric procedure that costs thousands of dollars, even if the benefits of surgery can be life-saving.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Home Equity Loan
  • Medical Financing
  • Medical Loan
  • Loan/Gift from friends/family
  • Hospital Charity Care
  • Weight Loss Surgery Grants
  • Fundraising

Loans and Financing

Loans and financing may be a perfect option for you if you have average or excellent credit. Places like CareCredit (http://www.carecredit.com/) and Springstone Patient Financing (https://secure.springstoneplan.com/index.php) can offer you the financing you need to fund your weight loss surgery procedure. If your credit isn't average or excellent, these options are not for you.

Hospital Charity Care

Some hospitals have charity care available to members of the community. You must apply for charity care and show proof of eligibility, such as proof of income. Search your local hospital website for contact information. All you have to do is ask for more information about medical assistance and charity care and they will direct you to the department responsible for handling this. Also, research in and around your community for weight loss clinics and see if you can become a part of those.

Weight Loss Surgery Grants

Weight Loss Surgery Foundation of America is currently the only legitimate grant resource for weight loss surgery and cosmetic surgery after a bariatric procedure. This grant program has several requirements to meet in order to apply for a grant which can be found on their website: http://www.wlsfa.org/. Some of these requirements are as follows: you must be referred by a qualifying surgeon, submit an application and a financial questionnaire, provide proof of insurance denial and appeal, denial of a loan from three sources, as well as agree to help raise at least 10% of the funds for surgery on your own. You can only apply for a grant during the grant period. All of the requirements and information is available on their website, including contact information, an application, and the surgeon referral information.

Fundraising

With so many fundraising options available, it is easier than ever to create a site for yourself or someone you know to help raise the funds for a bariatric procedure. Crowd funding sites and even PayPal are available to set up a fundraiser. Here is a list of sites for fundraising:

Should you decide to use any of the sites listed or another source for setting up a personal fundraising page, be sure to read all of the guidelines and payment information. Some of the sites ask that you agree to a small fee of any amount you raise.

Another tip is connect your fundraising site with your Facebook profile in order to have a farther reach when sharing it with other people. This also allows other people to share your page.

Make sure you tell a great story and explain why you need the funds from other people. Make sure the story is yours and the your story is true. The last thing you want is to raise $16,000 for a gastric bypass or vertical sleeve procedure and then someone finds out you fibbed. This could result in forfeiting the funds you raised and possibly not being allowed to use that site to create a new fundraising page.


Medical Tourism

Many people choose medical tourism in order to make weight loss surgery more affordable. This does not come without consequences. While there are many reputable and experienced surgeons outside of the US, it is important to do your research before you travel anywhere outside of the country for a surgical procedure. Be sure to find someone locally to provide your post operative care and make sure any insurance you have will cover any complications. Many surgeons prefer you to stay with the surgeon who competed your procedure for at least one year after surgery. Many insurance companies will not cover any medical care relating to elective procedures performed outside the US and not covered by insurance prior to the procedure.

Medical tourism isn't limited to leaving the US. You can travel anywhere within the US to get a more affordable surgery.

The most important things to consider:

  • Surgeon experience
  • Location
  • Inclusions and exclusion in price
  • travel arrangements pre- and post-operatively

Some surgical centers or hospitals offer surgery at $6,000, such as UMC in Las Vegas. This price does not include pre-op testing, lab work, or other appointments, such as EKG's, sleep studies, blood work, cardiac clearance, nutritionist/dietician, psychologist, prescriptions, supplements, pre-op education classes, and more that are necessary to facilitate success in bariatric patients. You also want to make sure they will accommodate you since you are traveling and will have many appointments both pre- and post operatively. You should ask if they can do some appointments on the same day or within a few days of each other and ask how long you will need to stay after surgery before your first follow up visit.

Sometimes the expense of medical tourism can add up to just as much, if not more, than having your procedure done locally as a self-pay patient.


Why Surgery?

Source

The Take Away

  • Research everything
  • Make phone calls and ask
  • Medical Tourism is an option, even in the US
  • Research and apply for charity care or grants
  • Set up a fundraising site
  • Keep going

Surgery and Affordability

Weight loss surgery is expensive if you have no insurance. While some people might say "get a job and get insurance" or "just lose weight with diet and exercise," this decision is for your health and the longevity and quality of the rest of your life. There are many options for affording a bariatric procedure, and don't count out getting a job that offers weight loss surgery coverage as part of their insurance plan.

Keep researching. Keep asking questions. Keep calling. Keep saving. Keep going through all of the options you find.

The worst they can say is "no," in which case you just move on to the next option.

Keep in mind that bariatric surgery is a tax write-off. Ask your tax professional for more information.


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