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Weight loss surgery on the boss


An employer must pay for weight-reduction surgery so a 340-pound employee can increase his chances that surgery to treat a work injury will be safe and successful, an appeals court ruled.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana also found earlier this month in Boston's Gourmet Pizza v. Adam Childers that the employer must pay the employee temporary total disability benefits while he prepares for, and recovers from, the weight-loss surgery.

A number of studies have reported that the nation's growing obesity problem will raise work comp costs.

A 2007 Duke University Medical Center study, for example, found that obese workers file twice as many work comp claims and have seven times higher medical costs than non-obese workers. Obese employees also lose 13 more days when they suffer a work injury.

The Indiana case offers a prime example of how obesity is increasing employer work comp costs and contributing to more time away from work as well as the need for additional medical care.

The employer in the case agreed to pay for lower back surgery the employee needed because a freezer door slammed into him in 2007 while he worked as a cook. But the employer argued it should not have to pay for lap-band surgery because the worker's weight essentially amounted to a pre-existing condition.

But the court agreed with a Worker's Compensation Board finding that the worker's pre-existing medical and health condition combined with the accident to create a single injury for which he is entitled to work comp benefits.

Expect to see more occupational and non-occupational medical expenses pile on because of obesity.

A San Francisco Chronicle story this week states that whatever healthcare reform offers up to reduce medical costs could be undermined by the expense of obesity. The problem kills more than 100,000 Americans each year and cost us $147 billion last year, the story states.

On the topic of health care reform and comp, a San Diego Union Tribune columnist opined that the California State Compensation Insurance Fund's nearly 100 years of success “shows that a well-designed public option can work.”

That's very interesting argument. But I can foresee many of the insurance lobbyists I know working to shoot it down.