Over the weekend, the Texas Tribune published one of those eye-opening, number-crunching reports the website has made its niche. This one is about weight-loss surgery, specifically weight-loss surgery that is paid for by taxpayers.
This is a relatively new phenomenon, the Tribune notes. Medicare only started covering weight-loss surgery in 2006, Medicaid in 2009, the argument being that surgical intervention in the most obese patients will actually reduce what the government spends treating those patients over the long term. And while the $3 million spent in Texas represents a miniscule slice of overall healthcare spending, that number did triple between 2007 and 2010.
The largest number of Medicaid-funded bariatric surgeries between 2007 and 2011 occurred, oddly, in McAllen, with Houston and Dallas coming in second and third, respectively. But Dallas boasts by far the single most prolific provider, Dr. Joseph Kuhn, who received Medicare reimbursement for 576 procedures since 2004. Also, as someone "uniquely capable of gathering information, making observations, and reaching conclusions about scientific discoveries," he thinks evolution is bunk.
According to his website, Kuhn has performed more than 3,500 bariatric surgeries that range in price from $10,850 and $16,000. The site does not explicitly advertise that it accepts Medicare patients, at least so far as I can tell, though with about 100 per year, it's hard to imagine there isn't some targeting of Medicare patients.
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I'm curious as to what portion of his business Medicare comprises, his views on the relative effectiveness of publicly-funded efforts to prevent obesity versus surgical intervention, if and why the surgery is a wise public investment, etc. I've called Kuhn's office and was directed to Sharon, his office manager, who I'm told is out for the day. So maybe tomorrow.