Teenagers Unlikely to Receive Insurance Coverage for Bariatric Surgery

Insurance coverage for bariatric surgery in patients under 18 is relatively scarce compared to adults, according to a Gant Daly report.

Between 1980 and 2008, while the rate of obesity doubled in adults, it tripled in children. Around 17 percent of American children are now obese. As the rate of obesity increases, so does the acceptance of bariatric surgery as a form of treatment: In 2009, around 220,000 people underwent weight-loss surgery, with three-quarters of companies with more than 20,000 employees covering the procedure for qualified patients.

At companies with fewer than 1,000 workers, around 46 percent of firms cover the procedure for qualified patients — and almost all Medicaid programs cover it as well. However, coverage for the procedure often excludes teenagers, as plans restrict coverage to those 18 and over. According to the report, around 1 percent of bariatric surgeries involve patients younger than 18.

Physicians say the caution is based in reason: While there are no strict age limits, adolescents must be emotionally and physically mature before undergoing surgery, meaning they must have reached their adult height and be prepared to follow a strict diet for the rest of their lives. Other physicians say the benefits of the surgery outweigh the risks, as the rate of obesity skyrockets along with the presence of co-morbidities.

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