Conference Coverage

Insurance-mandated diet pre–bariatric surgery deemed harmful


– The widespread health insurance industry practice of requiring obese patients to spend months on a physician-supervised strict weight-loss diet prior to approving coverage of bariatric surgery accomplishes nothing constructive, Charles J. Keith Jr., MD, reported at Obesity Week 2016.

“We found that insurance-mandated preoperative diets were associated with a significant delay in treatment, no improvement in postoperative complication rates, and also no improvement in weight loss outcomes. If anything, after adjusting for potential confounding variables, the outcomes were inferior to the group that wasn’t required to diet,” said Dr. Keith of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Bruce Jancin/Frontline Medical News

Dr. Charles J. Keith Jr.

He added that there is no Class I evidence to show that the requirement for a physician-supervised lengthy preoperative diet program results in improved weight loss outcomes, so the rationale for this mandate is not science based.

Dr. Keith presented a retrospective review from the prospectively collected Alabama University bariatric surgery database, which included all 284 patients who underwent laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass or laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy during 2009-2013. A total of 79% of the patients had private health insurance that required their participation in a preoperative physician-guided diet program, typically for 6 months. The other 21% did not have a mandatory preoperative diet requirement; the great majority of this group were covered under Medicare, which doesn’t require a diet program before bariatric surgery. The two groups weren’t significantly different in initial or immediately preoperative weight or body mass index, obesity-related comorbid conditions, type of bariatric surgery, or socioeconomic status.

The mean time from initial clinic visit to bariatric surgery was significantly shorter in the group with no mandated preoperative diet, at 154 vs. 218 days. In a multivariate analysis adjusted for age, sex, race, operation type, and comorbidities, the no-mandatory-diet group had a significantly greater reduction in BMI 6 months post surgery: a mean loss of 12.2 kg/m2, compared with 10.9 kg/m2 in the group required to participate in a preoperative diet. The difference was even greater at 2 years follow-up: a mean decrease of 14.9 kg/m2 in the no-diet group, vs. 10.7 kg/m2 in the mandatory diet group. The no-diet group experienced a mean 33% weight loss at 2 years, significantly better than the 25% weight loss in the mandatory diet group, Dr. Keith reported at the meeting, presented by the Obesity Society of America and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Audience discussion showed that the insurance-mandated preoperative diet requirement is a hot button issue in the bariatric surgical community.

“I think these insurance programs are specifically designed to delay care,” one surgeon asserted.

Another bariatric surgeon commented that while Dr. Keith’s study will be helpful in advocating for removal of the mandatory preoperative diet requirement, what’s really needed are studies that demonstrate just how often this requirement results in drop out from bariatric programs by patients who’ve grown discouraged by yet-another unsuccessful attempt at nonsurgical weight loss.

Dr. Keith reported having no financial conflicts of interest regarding his study.

Next Article: