Importance Bariatric surgery is a well-documented treatment for obesity, but there are uncertainties about the degree to which such surgery is associated with health care cost reductions that are sustained over time.
Objective To provide a comprehensive, multiyear analysis of health care costs by type of procedure within a large cohort of privately insured persons who underwent bariatric surgery compared with a matched nonsurgical cohort.
Design Longitudinal analysis of 2002-2008 claims data comparing a bariatric surgery cohort with a matched nonsurgical cohort.
Setting Seven BlueCross BlueShield health insurance plans with a total enrollment of more than 18 million persons.
Participants A total of 29 820 plan members who underwent bariatric surgery between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2008, and a 1:1 matched comparison group of persons not undergoing surgery but with diagnoses closely associated with obesity.
Main Outcome Measures Standardized costs (overall and by type of care) and adjusted ratios of the surgical group's costs relative to those of the comparison group.
Results Total costs were greater in the bariatric surgery group during the second and third years following surgery but were similar in the later years. However, the bariatric group's prescription and office visit costs were lower and their inpatient costs were higher. Those undergoing laparoscopic surgery had lower costs in the first few years after surgery, but these differences did not persist.
Conclusions and Relevance Bariatric surgery does not reduce overall health care costs in the long term. Also, there is no evidence that any one type of surgery is more likely to reduce long-term health care costs. To assess the value of bariatric surgery, future studies should focus on the potential benefit of improved health and well-being of persons undergoing the procedure rather than on cost savings.