Tummy tuck after weight loss: Elective cosmetic surgery or medically necessary procedure?
The question is not academic and, if a recent article in The Wall Street Journal is any indication, the answer can have far-reaching consequences for doctors, patients and the health insurance companies that may or may not cover the procedure.
Titled “Not Just Vanity: Tummy Tucks That Heal,” the article cites research showing that patients who lose a lot of weight (through bariatric surgery or other means) and then have the resulting excess skin removed are more likely to keep weight off than those who don’t. Patients who have tummy tucks or other abdominal procedures regained an average of just over 1 pound a year compared with 4 pounds annually for bariatric patients who didn’t have contouring procedures.
The authors say the findings add to the argument that such procedures are an essential part of successful weight-loss surgery, notes the Journal, and should be considered reconstructive and thus covered by insurance.
Whether a particular abdominoplasty should or shouldn’t be covered by insurance is clearly a matter between individual doctors, their patients and those patients’ insurance companies. But if the post-procedure comments from tummy tuck patients on RealSelf are any indication, it’s clear that they, at least, believe they’re reaping benefits that go beyond looking better in the mirror:
From navygoddess, who posted the following comment 5 months after her procedure:
I have never felt this good about myself in my entire life. I love my abs, I love my 32 inch hips, and I love my new body! I have never felt this amazing in my life. Having this done has enabled me to make so many healthy decisions for myself, such as swearing off processed food and animal products.
Or this one VegasGirl posted 11 months after hers:
I eat a lot better now. I’m more conscious of what I’m putting in my body because I can see the results right away if I eat big meals a couple days in a row my belly will show me. I look at the work it took for my doctor to create the belly I have and I value that so I do take care of my body differently now.
Or this one My Bariatric Life posted a half-year after hers:
Getting a diagnosis of diabetes was such a turning point in my life. It was a wake-up call that I answered. Had I not gotten diabetes, then I likely would not have gotten bariatric surgery [and a subsequent tummy tuck] and turned my health and my life around. Today I’m a size medium and living life larger than ever!
Needless to say, correlation is not the same as causation and one can debate whether it was the weight loss, the lifestyle changes or the tummy tuck that led to the health improvements these patients experienced. Even so, between their comments, the cited research and the potential impact on insurance coverage, it’s a discussion worth having.