Overweight employees going under the knife

Louisiana's health plan for state employees forking out $1.3 million for stomach-reduction surgery for 40 overweight staff in effort to find out if it saves money in the long run

The state-run insurance plan in Louisiana is forking out about $1.3 million on stomach-reduction surgery for 40 overweight state employees.

The operations are expected to cost about $33,000 each, according to Sharon Runyan, a spokeswoman for the Office of Group Benefits, the state-run insurance plan for state workers.

According to a report in The Times Picayune, a New Orleans-based newspaper, the operations will provide data to show whether gastric-bypass surgery is a cost-effective way to treat not only obesity but also complications such as diabetes and heart problems.

The state-run plan, which covers 250,000 employees, does not normally cover this type of operation. The outcome of the experiment on the 40 employees will help it determine whether or not it might do so in the future.

According to figures provided by Runyan, the Office of Group Benefits spent $30.8 million for people with coronary-artery disease, $6.5 million for policyholders with diabetes and $6.3 million for people with high blood pressure in 2002.

“We don’t presume to say that obesity was the only factor in their diseases,” said Runyan. “(But) there’s so much about our health that we can’t control. Perhaps this is a way to look at factors that we might be able to control.”

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