Obesity Continues to Cost Hospitals Big Bucks

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Those of us who pay attention to healthcare news on a daily basis are well aware of the obesity epidemic in the United States. We are also aware of the costs that obesity is foisting upon hospitals as they struggle to provide adequate care to morbidly obese patients.

According to a Dec. 3 article in Healthcare Finance News, the costs wrought by obesity are becoming harder and harder for healthcare facilities to contain. Novation, the healthcare supply contracting firm used by many of the organizations profiled by HCE Exchange, released its 2012 Bariatric Report on Monday and concluded that these costs are rapidly rising across the country.

Rene Letourneau, Healthcare Finance News editor, writes, “Novation reports 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.”

This is not the most encouraging news, especially given the measures that many healthcare organizations are taking to combat obesity and educate their communities on it. Using the last 12-18 months as its barometer, Novation found that treating the morbidly obese can cost anywhere from $200 to $5 million, with beds consuming much of that expense.

Bariatric-related reconstructive surgeries have also gone up, as have investments (anywhere from $12,000 to $4 million) in redesigning and renovating facilities that are better suited for the morbidly obese. Many organizations are investing in weight-loss programs, counseling programs, and fitness programs, as well as obesity education and prevention programs.

Novation’s vice president of sourcing operations Cathy Denning told Healthcare Finance News, “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.”

Denning believes that there is no end in sight for these rising costs since the epidemic is now generational with childhood obesity continuing to be a potent and pervasive problem. She emphasizes the need to take care of these patients and invest as much money as one’s capital budget will allow in treating morbid obesity. Denning added that most hospitals are willing and enthusiastic to do this.

So, this is where we need your input. What is your organization doing to combat morbid obesity, whether at the pediatric or adult levels? What programs and initiatives have you put in place to educate your community? How are you controlling these costs?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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