As I've mentioned before, my health insurance company does not pay for weight loss surgery. That means I had to cover the entire cost of my gastric sleeve on my own. Before making the decision to go ahead with the surgery, I talked to my bariatric health center, and they quoted me a flat rate for the procedure. It wasn't cheap. In fact, it was enough to make a light sweat break out on my forehead. But it was doable.
I obtained a medical credit card and scraped together some money I'd made doing freelance writing and editing projects. Then I paid the center. It was done. My finances had taken a big hit, but at least I had paid everything that was due and could get started on the process of getting healthy again, physically and financially. Or so I thought.
A few days after I got home from the hospital after my surgery, unexpected bills began to roll in. I hadn't yet met my insurance deductible, so I had to pay for my cardiac stress test and my endoscopy, which were supposedly insurance-covered procedures, out of pocket. There went another $1500.
Then I got a bill from the anesthesiologist. Yes, the billing department agreed, they had a contract with my bariatric surgeon, but their contract stipulated each procedure would take only two hours of service. Due to complications, mine had take three hours and 51 minutes. I wrote them a check for $285.
My next bill was from the imaging department at the hospital, where I'd swallowed a vile dye they could track through my stomach to make sure the staples weren't leaking. That one was for $100. Then came bills from the hospital laboratory and pharmacy. I'm sure there will be others.
I'm still not sorry I had the gastric sleeve. But if I had it to do over, I'd be a much more savvy consumer. I'd ask about extras that might turn up on my bill and not naively assume that the flat rate really did cover the whole thing.
If you're considering paying out-of-pocket for weight loss surgery, speak to the accounting department at your bariatric health center and ask some pointed questions:
- What, exactly, does the flat fee cover?
- What, exactly, does the flat fee not cover? (Ask specifically about anesthesiology, room and board in the hospital, lab costs, imaging services, laboratory, and pharmacy.)
- What, on average, do patients end up paying besides the flat fee?
- Can the surgeon safely take any measures to minimize my out-of-pocket expenses?
If you have more than one bariatric health center in town, do a little comparison shopping. But above all, set aside more money than you think you will need to cover unexpected expenses or to keep yourself on track financially if the recovery period keeps you off work for longer than you'd anticipated.
Weight loss surgery will never be cheap, but with a little forethought and planning, it doesn't need to wreak financial devastation, either.