Why Budget Weight Loss Surgery Might Not Be Your Best Option

Posted on: 15th Jul, 2022

You have probably seen ads online inviting you to travel to Mexico, where you can undergo sleeve gastrectomy for a fraction of the cost of here in the United States. It might seem tempting, but budget weight loss surgery in another country might not be your best option. Here’s why.

What to Consider

There are some profoundly serious health and financial risks to consider. Before explaining those, I will say that surgery, like more professions, enjoys a greater worldwide community and educational level. So, the quality and the risks are converging toward some eventual parity. But we are a long, long way from similar safety levels for surgery between the U.S. and Mexico.

U.S. accredited centers, like Nevada Surgical here in Reno, Nevada, must report every single case to a national database, and must meet and discuss every single complication to understand why it occurred and how to prevent it. It is clear that the same is not happening at south-of-the-border facilities. Like most busy centers and surgeons at major bariatric programs in the United States, our surgeons can all recount a lengthy list of patient complications from “bargain” surgery that we have worked to resolve when someone suffered problems after traveling for budget weight loss surgery out of the country. It is abundantly clear the complication rates are vastly higher when one travels outside the United States for bargain weight loss surgery.

A number of issues compound the problem of complication risk. There is the fact that these surgical centers do not offer long-term follow up or ongoing care, something that is considered essential to the success and safety of bariatric surgery. There is no legal recourse, no way to recoup the huge economic toll of experiencing loss of work and further medical care for complications. There’s also a little known provision in United States healthcare plans that completely absolves your health insurance plan from covering you for the future care of anything related to the bargain weight loss surgery you had in Mexico. The insurance company is always exceptionally good at identifying that loophole and blocking any payments or coverage for anything that they deem related including future lab tests, endoscopy treatments, revisional procedures, doctor visits, you name it. Those expenses are borne personally forevermore by the person who went to Mexico for surgery.

The standards for a surgeon to become accredited are exceedingly high in the United States, but not so for many other countries. Likewise, the standards for a bariatric surgical center and the quality metrics they must demonstrate are extremely high in the United States but far less so south of the border.

A Cautionary Tale

A few weeks ago, an employee at one of the hospitals where I work returned from a prolonged absence looking very frail and weak. It turns out she had decided to go to Mexico for a bargain weight loss surgical procedure but ended up having two major surgical procedures to correct a leak and peritonitis. Then, after three months of recovering at home at her mother’s house, while family members and grandparents looked after her children, she had to go through yet another surgical procedure by a U.S. surgeon to fully correct the problem. This last one comes at her own expense, which has drained her 401(k) account. But at least she appears likely to recover and be able to resume work, after a seven-month ordeal.

These stories are shockingly common, far more common than comparable stories at accredited United States centers where the volumes are 10 and 20 times higher.

No one disclosed these risks to our beloved employee. No one explained that she might be putting her entire retirement savings at risk. No one explained that her American health insurance would not cover a dime of the corrective surgery. No one explained that the risks at this Mexican hospital of complications was at least ten times higher than a comparable American one. Would that have changed her mind about attempting to save money? Quite possibly yes.

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