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Reduced Survival in Bariatric Surgery Candidates Delayed or Denied by Lack of Insurance Approval

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Bariatric surgery reduces mortality for Americans who meet candidacy criteria and have insurance coverage. Unfortunately, some medically suitable candidates are denied or delayed during insurance approval processes. The long-term impact of such care delays on survival is unknown. Using a prospectively maintained bariatric intake database, we identified consecutive applicants who were evaluated and medically cleared by our multidisciplinary care team and for whom insurance approval was requested. We compared survival in those who were initially approved by their insurance carriers (controls) and those who were initially denied coverage (subjects). Mortality was determined using the Social Security Death Index. Kaplan‐Meier survival curves were plotted and the log-rank test for significance was applied. From August 2003 to December 2008, 463 patients (391 females, mean age 45 ± 10 years, mean body mass index 52.5 ± 9.4 kg/m2) were medically cleared for a bariatric procedure. Of these, 363 were approved by insurance on initial request, whereas 100 were denied. Given the study’s intention to measure the aggregate impact of delays and denials, nine patients who later came to operation after appeal or coverage change were maintained in the subject cohort. During 0- to 113-month follow-up, six subjects (6%) died compared with seven controls (1.9%), corresponding to a statistically significant survival benefit for patients initially approved for bariatric surgery without delay or denial (P < 0.001). In conclusion, access to bariatric surgical care was impeded by insurance certification processes in 22 per cent of medically acceptable candidates. Processes that delay or restrict efficient access to bariatric surgery are associated with a 3-fold mortality increase.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Surgery, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Publication date: 01 February 2016

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  • The Southeastern Surgical Congress owns and publishes The American Surgeon monthly. It is the official journal of the Congress and the Southern California Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, which all members receive each month. The journal brings up to date clinical advances in surgical knowledge in a popular reference format. In addition to publishing papers presented at the annual meetings of the associated organizations, the journal publishes selected unsolicited manuscripts. If you have a manuscript you'd like to see published in The American Surgeon select "Information for Authors" from the Related Information options below. A Copyright Release Form must accompany all manuscripts submitted.
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