Private U.S. health insurers paid about $777 million for “bariatric” surgical procedures in 2002, up from $117 million in 1998.[@@]

Although the mean cost of the weight-control procedures increased only 13%, to $13,048 per procedure, the number of procedures covered by private insurers increased to 59,497, from 10,167, according to a team of researchers led by William Encinosa, an economist with the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The researchers have published a paper on trends in bariatric surgery in the latest edition of Health Affairs, a health care finance and delivery journal.

The researchers based their study on data collected by private firms as well as by federal agencies.

The researchers found that private health insurers paid for about 83% of bariatric procedures in 2002, up from 76% 5 years earlier.

The percentage of patients paying for their own bariatric procedures fell to 3.5%, from 5.3%.

Surgeons usually recommend bariatric surgery only for extremely obese patients, but “the potential demand may be quite large,” Encinosa and his colleagues write in their study report.

In 2002, only 0.6% of the 11.5 million U.S. residents who might be eligible for bariatric procedures underwent bariatric surgery, the researchers write.