Cost of treatment for morbid obesity still climbing, report finds

The costs associated with treating morbidly obese patients continue to rise, according to a report released Dec. 3 by healthcare supply contracting firm Novation.

In its 2012 Bariatric Report, Novation notes that 74 percent of the facilities that responded to its survey have seen an increase in the number of bariatric surgeries in the past 12 months. More than half of respondents also spent more on the treatment of morbidly obese patients in the last 12-18 months than they had in previous years.

Other key report findings include:

  • Sixty-one percent of respondents have seen an increase in the number of bariatric-related reconstructive surgeries in the last 18 months.
  • The estimated cost of all expenses related to the treatment of morbidly obese patients ranged from $200 to as much as $5 million in the last 12-18 months. Beds account for the highest total costs and/or the greatest increase in bariatric product spending at member facilities.
  • Thirty-six percent indicate that they invested in the physical renovation for their facilities to accommodate morbidly obese patients in the past year. The estimated cost of all morbidly obese-related renovations ranged from $12,000 up to $4 million.
  • Fifty-three percent have a fitness program in their facilities, 60 percent have a weight-loss program and 61 percent have a counseling program.
  • In light of healthcare reform changes, the majority of respondents plan to enhance their obesity education and prevention programs. Fifty-six percent will enhance the programs for patients, while 64 percent will enhance these programs for their own employees.
  • When asked about workplace injuries related to caring for morbidly obese patients, 59 percent have seen a decrease in the past year. Of the 59 percent, 77 percent believe that teh decline in injuries was due to purchasing specialized equipment for obese patients or offering training programs.

“The member hospitals we serve have seen a continual rise in the costs of treating obese patients, while also facing the financial pressures of the economy, reduced reimbursement and changes under healthcare reform,” said Cathy Denning, vice president, sourcing operations at Novation.

Denning believes this upward cost trend is likely to continue.

“We see childhood obesity continuing,” she said. “From that perspective, we can anticipate this will be a problem for many years to come…To close our eyes and not accommodate [for these patients] is foolhardy.”

Denning cited the need to purchase larger beds, widen hallways and elevators and renovate bathrooms as major cost drivers in the care of morbidly obese patients.

However, hospitals are showing a willingness to spend the money necessary to renovate, she said.

“Hospitals are willing to invest those dollars to do that, even in these times,” said Denning. “Capital budgets are loosening. It speaks well of facilities that are appropriately investing where they need to.”

“We have to take care of these patients safely,” added Denning. “In the future, reimbursements will depend on it. If there is a patient incident in your hospital, you own that.”

According to Donna Simon, bariatric coordinator at Phoenix-based Banner Health, staff training also accounts for a portion of the additional costs associated with caring for morbidly obese patients.

Training includes proper techniques for lifting and moving obese patients and also concentrates on teaching sensitivity, said Simon.

“Sensitivity is one of the biggest things,” Simon said in an interview with Healthcare Finance News in August. “We have staff sensitivity training because everyone is a person, but people don’t know how to treat the obese. Every employee goes through sensitivity training every year, not just at the time of hire.”

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