In a treatment boon for those affected by obesity, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) now mandates weight loss surgery coverage by firms in the country.
Bariatric surgery refers to weight loss procedures to help those affected by severe obesity. According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, “when combined with a comprehensive treatment plan, bariatric surgery may often act as an effective tool to provide you with long term weight-loss and help you increase your quality of health. Bariatric surgery has been shown to help improve or resolve many obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and more.”
Concurring, former Obesity Surgery Society of India president Dr Shashank Shah told The Times of India (ToI) “bariatric surgery is currently the only intervention, which provides significant and long-term weight loss for the morbidly obese. It also improves their diabetes, hypertension and quality of life. The IRDAI’s move will benefit a lot of insured patients in the country, who were not able to opt for the surgery due to the cost factor.”
The IRDAI’s decision came in a vacuum. Experts cited by the ToI commented “barring a few, the surgery was not covered by many insurance firms as it was considered a cosmetic procedure rather than a life-saving treatment.” This, for bariatric surgeon Dr Utkrant Kurlekar, is difficult to understand. “Insurance firms without hesitation cover treatment for heart diseases, paralysis, joint replacement, which many a times are a result of obesity,” he said. “So, it was a paradox that the manifestation was covered under insurance, but the root cause wasn’t.”
Obesity affects more than 135 million Indians, including eleven million children. The country’s obesity rate is the third-highest in the world. Against a backdrop of greater availability and consumption of processed and fast food, employment trends changing from manual labour to white collar work, and fewer Indians engaging in physical activity, India’s rising rate of obesity is expected to worsen in the coming years. As such, greater availability of treatment such as bariatric surgery is much-needed to combat the condition and the plethora of diseases and health complications associated with it.