Some Hospitals Pursue Weight-Loss Surgeries as Source of Revenue
The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday examined efforts by some hospitals to attract weight-loss surgery patients as a "welcome source of revenue" at a time when one-third of U.S. hospitals are losing money. Nationwide, the number of weight-loss surgeries performed has increase tenfold over the last 12 years, with more than 140,000 patients undergoing surgical procedures to help them lose weight in 2004, the Times reports. The procedures generated more than $3.5 billion in revenue for hospitals in 2004.
With an average patient cost of $25,000 per procedure, weight-loss surgeries are "a tempting field for hospitals that are swamped by unpaid bills," the Times reports. The revenue from weight-loss surgeries can help cover the cost of emergency care for the uninsured or procedures on which hospitals lose money or break even.
For example, at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, surgeons performed 433 weight-loss procedures in 2003, generating revenue of about $12,000 per procedure for the hospital. Without the revenue, the hospital would have lost money.
According to the Times, the procedures are considered elective, which allows hospitals to collect payment from patients before submitting bills to their insurance companies.
Roland Sturm, a senior economist at RAND, said, "It's a gold rush in medicine. No hospital or doctor wants to be left behind."
However, some insurance company executives have voiced concerns that the rapid increase in procedures could jeopardize patient safety (Girion Los Angeles Times, 6/7).