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updated: 2/14/2014 7:31 AM

Health plans don't cover weight loss surgery

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  • Mary-Jane Harrison plays with her granddaughter, in San Antonio. Like nearly 78 million American adults, Harrison is obese, and because of stress fractures in her legs she is unable to able to walk up or down the stairs of her two-story home.

      Mary-Jane Harrison plays with her granddaughter, in San Antonio. Like nearly 78 million American adults, Harrison is obese, and because of stress fractures in her legs she is unable to able to walk up or down the stairs of her two-story home.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- While the number of obese Americans persists at record levels, the number of patients undergoing weight loss surgery hasn't budged in a decade.

Last year, about 160,000 U.S. patients underwent weight loss surgery -- roughly the same number as in 2004. That's only about 1 percent of the estimated 18 million adults who qualify nationwide for the surgery, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

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Surgeons blame a combination of factors for the stagnating numbers, including the economic downturn and a social stigma against resorting to surgery to treat weight problems. But insurance coverage is the largest hurdle, they say.

Nearly two-thirds of health plans sponsored by employers don't cover weight loss surgery, which can cost between $15,000 and $25,000.

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