New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is one of the most popular men in the state and one of the most popular governors in the country. He was also a "heavyweight" in American politics, weighing in at around 350 pounds. But now, after enlightening us about his previously undisclosed lap band surgery in mid-February, he has shed some 40 pounds. Nice work if you can have it -- and for the price he paid.
During this surgery a lap band is placed around the upper neck of the stomach, making it more difficult to let food in. The end result: You feel full but eat less. By now we probably all know someone who has undergone this operation, or the similar but more complicated bariatric surgery, which involves having the stomach resized. I know three such people -- one successful, one not and one too soon to tell.
Follow the leader
Medical issues aside, having a high profile media star like Gov. Christie as your poster child is a victory "lap" for doctors, hospitals and outpatient facilities that perform this procedure. It is also likely to raise the cost of health insurance. Simply put: Follow the leader or in this case, the governor.
Broadway and movie stars, singers and other public figures have undoubtedly had this operation and chose to keep it quiet. Gov. Christie wanted to do the same, but the media, which views him as a 2016 presidential candidate, wasn't about to let it happen. Now that the floodgate is open, it's a fair assumption that many other insured people will want this type of surgery.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta almost 36 percent, or more than a third of all Americans, are considered obese. This means that about 100 million people could qualify for weight loss surgery and around 80 million of them currently have health insurance.
Is the price right?
Research the cost of this procedure and you'll find a wide disparity in prices. A fair estimate of the amount Gov. Christie paid or, more realistically, was probably paid by the New Jersey state worker's health insurance plan, is between $18,000 and $35,000, according to Politico. This depends in large part on the length of the hospital stay.
Unlike cosmetic procedures like Botox, health insurers such as Aetna and United Healthcare do pay for weight loss surgery, say websites like obesitycoverage.com, provided you get a doctor to say that you need it. And for many of those 80 million insured Americans, that shouldn't be too hard. It is important to contact your insurer beforehand to verify coverage for the procedure and find out whether you would be covered afterward if something goes wrong and the surgery either had to be repeated or reversed.
So what effect will this have on the health care costs that Obamacare is supposed to lower? It will be almost impossible if the medical profession keeps inventing and encouraging people to undergo more and more covered procedures like lap band surgery. Many overweight people will ultimately want it, particularly if a possible future president had it and continues to keep his weight down.
Not for you
What will go up are the billions of dollars we will pay for health insurance. Many of these medical procedures are beneficial. But when health insurers pay for them so do we.
For those who don't know, Gov. Christie is no fan of Obamacare. Our governor has refused to set up a state-run health exchange that would enable our residents without health insurance to buy it. Wouldn't it be nice if he had leveled the playing field at the same time he lowered his weight?