NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – Many third-party payers require candidates for bariatric surgery to complete weight loss programs in order to qualify for reimbursement, but two new studies presented at Obesity Week 2017 have found no identifiable justification for the delay in treatment.
“When comparing those who did or did not participate in a weight management program, there was no significant benefit in regard to surgery complications, patient rate of followup, or percent excess weight loss at 12 months,” reported Andrew Schneider, MD, who is completing his residency in general surgery in the Greenville Health Systems, Greenville, South Carolina.analysis presented by Dr. Schneider was drawn from prospectively maintained data in the Greenville Health System. From 354 patients in this pool of data, a cohort of 266 required to participate in an insurance-mandated, medically supervised weight management program were compared to a second cohort of 88 patients who were not.
No significant differences were observed in a long list of procedural and outcome variables including operating time, length of hospital stay, and excess weight loss (EWL) at 3, 6, and 12 months, according to Dr. Schneider, who emphasized that no differences even approached significance.
A second study, evaluating the effect of presurgical weight management programs from a different perspective, drew the same conclusion. In this study, the goal was to correlate the number of preoperative weight loss sessions with change in multiple outcomes including EWL, according Genna Hymowitz, PhD, a psychologist at the Stony Brook Medicine Bariatric and Metabolic Weight Loss Center, Stony Brook, New York.
No correlation was observed between number of presurgical weight management program visits and any outcome evaluated in followup out to 12 months, according to Dr. Hymowitz. There was one exception.
“The number of visits attended and weight loss 3 weeks after surgery was a negative correlation, suggesting that the number of sessions attended was associated with lower excess weight loss,” Dr. Hymowitz reported.
Insurance company requirements for presurgical weight management programs vary widely, but the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) concluded in a position statement issued in 2011 that they are unsupported by controlled evidence. According to this statement, which referenced several clinical studies, “there is no evidence of any kind that insurance mandated preoperative weight loss…has any clear impact on postoperative outcomes or weight loss.”
In the ASBMS statement, the objection is directed at specific requirements for medically supervised weight loss program. These can demand six or more months of participation before reimbursement for surgery will be granted. In the ASBMS statement, mandated treatment required by insurance companies is distinguished from Medicare policy. Medicare reimbursement requires patients to fail medical treatment prior to bariatric surgery but providers are allowed to define failure. In contrast, specified periods of medical management required by insurance companies can have the effect of delaying treatment with proven efficacy in appropriate candidates.
Asked to speculate why insurance companies mandate supervised weight loss program for bariatric surgery eligibility, Dr. Schneider suggested that it might be considered a method to evaluate patient motivation and compliance. However, he also acknowledged that the requirement is likely to provide a barrier for some individuals thereby reducing surgical costs for the third-party payers.
While there are now several studies, including those cited in the ASBMS position statement, arguing that these mandates should be eliminated, longer followup is needed, according to Maher El Chaar, MD, Co-Medical Director, Bariatric surgery, St. Luke’s University Hospital, Allentown, Pennsylvania. One of the moderators for the Obesity Week session in which the two latest studies were presented, Dr. El Chaar said that insurance company representatives with whom he has spoken insist that longer-term studies are needed.
“When I point out that there is no data supporting mandated weight management programs, they tell me that there is very little data beyond 12 months,” Dr. El Chaar explained. He suggested data beyond 12 months could be helpful in the effort to get these requirements waived.
Dr. Schneider and Dr. Hymowitz reported no relevant financial relationships.