Bariatric Surgery Safety Has Increased With Medicare Coverage



CHICAGO – Complication rates for bariatric surgery patients on Medicare declined after Medicare began to cover the procedure in 2006, an analysis of state inpatient data from 12 states has found.

Data from previous studies suggest that bariatric surgery outcomes for Medicare patients improved after the implementation of Medicare’s National Coverage Determination in 2006, said Dr. Justin B. Dimick of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. But specific safety data on Medicare patients who have undergone bariatric surgery since the time of the decision are limited, Dr. Dimick said. The decision allowed for Medicare coverage of patients who sought care at facilities certified by the American College of Surgeons or the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Dr. Justin B. Dimick

To assess the impact of the National Coverage Determination on the safety of bariatric surgery, Dr. Dimick and his colleagues reviewed state inpatient data from 12 large, geographically dispersed states. Patients were identified on the basis of ICD-9 codes and diagnosis-related groups for weight loss surgery.

The outcomes were categorized according to any complication, a serious complication, or a reoperation.

The percentage of Medicare patients with any complications dropped from 12% before the determination to 8% afterward. Similarly, the percentage of non-Medicare patients with any complications dropped from 7% before to 5% after the determination.

In a multivariate analysis, the factors contributing to improved outcomes for bariatric surgery in Medicare patients were an increase in the use of laparoscopic gastric banding (lap band surgery), the transfer of patients to better hospitals, and quality improvement within individual hospitals, Dr. Dimick said.

Improvements in the safety of bariatric surgery did not, however, result from patients being redirected to safer hospitals, said Dr. Dimick. In fact, complication rates for procedures performed at Centers of Excellence versus non–Centers of Excellence were not significantly different (odds ratio for any complications, 0.97), he noted.

"CMS should consider dropping the COE [Centers of Excellence] aspect of the coverage decision [that] limits patient access without a beneficial improvement in outcomes," Dr. Dimick said. "Alternatively, CMS could revise the national coverage decision to further encourage participation in a quality improvement registry." Such a registry would need to include measures of long-term effectiveness to identify any unintended consequences of the increase in lap band surgery, he added.

Dr. Dimick is an equity owner and cofounder of ArborMetrix, a health care analytics and software firm.

Next Article: