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Christie Gets Bariatric Surgery to Slim Down, But Many Candidates Lack Access to Procedure

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has undergone lap-band surgery in a bid to lose weight. The various procedures — known collectively as bariatric surgery — have a mixed record, but they've grown more popular as the nation grapples with increasing obesity rates. Even so, these operations are not an option for many of the country’s most obese.

The American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery estimates about 80 percent of large employers insurance plans cover procedures like the one Christie had, while about 40 percent of small- and medium-size employers who insure workers pay for the operations.

Medicare covers weight-loss surgery, as does Medicaid in most states, but few people in these groups opt for the procedures, even as obesity rates of the low-income Medicaid population remains high.

Dr. Jaime Ponce, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, said it’s possible that primary care doctors aren’t widely recommending surgery for their obese Medicaid patients, and that these patients aren’t as informed about the option.

But anecdotal surveys also suggest many surgeons refuse to accept Medicaid payments, especially in New Jersey, where Medicaid advocates frequently cite low access to specialty care.

University Hospital in Newark, one of the state's main destinations for Medicaid patients seeking medical specialists, recently lost its only bariatric surgeon.

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