From: Reuters
Published May 20, 2008 11:25 AM

Medicare may broaden obesity surgery payment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Medicare program may expand reimbursement for bariatric surgery for the obese, in light of a study that found the treatment can help reverse diabetes, the agency said on Monday.

Recent research found the surgery can completely reverse type 2 diabetes, a metabolic condition spurred by weight gain and suffered by millions of Americans.

Medicare, the government health plan for the nation's 44 million elderly, "will assess the nature of the scientific evidence supporting surgery for the treatment of diabetes," the agency said on its Web site.

The agency will decide whether to set a "national coverage decision," that would set reimbursement policy for all Medicare recipients. It could also decide to not cover the weight-loss surgery for diabetes alone.

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The government already pays for the surgery in certain patients, generally those classified as "morbidly obese."

The surgery has been controversial, as some studies have found a higher death rate among some patients.

The prevalence of obesity rose from 15 percent of the adult population in a 1976-1980 survey, to 33 percent from 2003-2004 data, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, diabetes has become more common in the United States. From 1980 through 2005, the number of Americans with diabetes increased from 5.6 million to 15.8 million, according to CDC.

Allergan Inc sells a product called the Lap-Band that can be used during certain surgeries.

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