Stomach-reducing surgery may help those with type 2 diabetes

By Megg Mueller on January 26th, 2011

Bariatric surgery (also called stomach stapling or gastric banding) is generally thought of as a procedure to help morbidly obese people lose a significant amount of weight. A new study funded by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suggests that stomach reduction surgery can also help people who suffer from type 2 diabetes by reducing or eliminating the need for diabetic medications.

While researchers are not calling the surgery a cure, the study, performed at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and published in August by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that almost 75 percent of patients with type 2 diabetes were able to stop taking their diabetes medication within six months after having the stomach reduction surgery.

These results have significant implications for affordable health insurance for the millions of Americans who suffer from type 2 diabetes.

Why health insurance plans should cover the surgery

The study goes so far as to recommend that health insurance companies pay the cost of stomach reduction surgery in patients with type 2 diabetes because of measurable health benefits and long-term cost savings.

The researchers tracked health care costs for 2,235 adult patients one year before and three years after the surgery, and found that while annual costs increased in the first year, they decreased dramatically in the second and third years.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the Johns Hopkins study found that after surgery, most patients were able to stop taking not only their diabetic medications, but also other medications such as those for high blood pressure, significantly reducing their medical costs.

How surgery may help control type 2 diabetes

Many researchers believe that bariatric surgery alters hormones in the stomach, making them more effective at controlling blood glucose levels. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body's cells. Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, interferes with the body's ability to regulate glucose in the blood, which can lead to serious and even fatal complications.

It's unlikely that one study will have health insurance companies rushing to cover bariatric surgery, but the results of the study yielded promising results. In the three years after surgery, patient health care costs had decreased by about 70 percent. That's a number that the health insurance companies won't ignore for long.

Megg Mueller
Megg Mueller is a journalist with almost two decades of experience. She has worked as a reporter and editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as an editor of health care and education manuals for Aspen Publishers, a subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer. She wrote a weekly column on the hotel industry during her tenure as assistant travel editor for USA TODAY.com. Mueller is the editor of a tourism-based website and also serves as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper.

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