ACT News

Taxpayers to fund weight-loss surgery in the ACT for the first time

The ACT government has begun paying for bariatric weight-loss surgery, making taxpayer-funded operations available in the ACT for the first time.

After a decade-long delay in approving publicly funded weight-loss surgery, the government has confirmed to The Canberra Times that it met its 2012 election commitment to fund the operations when it launched its Obesity Management Service on Tuesday.

About 400 weight-loss operations were performed in Australia in 2004. This soared to 14,000 in 2013.
About 400 weight-loss operations were performed in Australia in 2004. This soared to 14,000 in 2013. Photo: Jim Rice

''Bariatric surgery is only one small component of an overarching strategy to target people with bariatric needs,'' an ACT Health spokesperson said.

Taxpayer-funded weight-loss surgery has been considered in the territory for 12 years, while gastric banding and sleeves have been available in public hospitals in South Australia and Victoria.

The head of chronic disease epidemiology at the Australian National University, Emily Banks, said there were gross misconceptions about bariatric surgery.

''Bariatric surgery is a very effective treatment for people who are obese and have health problems. It is one of the most cost-effective treatments, so it really should be available, regardless of how much people can afford,'' Professor Banks said.


She said healthcare should be delivered according to need not ability to pay. ''Our research shows there are huge inequalities with access to bariatric surgery.''

The surgery has been covered by the federal government's Medicare Benefits Scheme since 1992 and research has shown it causes remission of type-2 diabetes in 75 per cent to 95 per cent of patients.

About 80 per cent of type-2 diabetics have the condition because they are overweight.

''It's about the way money is allocated. The states could fund more of these operations for public patients,'' Professor Banks said.

''People with private health insurance are nine times more likely to have a bariatric procedure.

''There are elements of the Australian public health system that work really well, but there are elements that generate inequalities, and the issue with bariatric surgery is that poorer people are more likely to be obese yet they are the ones who don't have access to this cost-effective treatment.''

Australians can also dip into their super to fund weight-loss operations if they have three underlying conditions as a result of excess weight.

Documentation from a GP and bariatric surgeon are needed but Professor Banks said it was unacceptable to further disadvantage those with less super when the operations were likely to make them live long enough to use it.

About 400 weight-loss operations were performed in Australia in 2004. This soared to 14,000 in 2013, with up to 20 per cent of patients accessing their super to pay for the surgery.