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Knoxville Surgeon Works to Decrease Barriers to Bariatric Surgery

At his heaviest, Chad weighed more than 400 lbs. before bariatric surgery.

Like an estimated 160 million Americans, Chad Lemons of Harriman, Tennessee, tried and tried to lose weight, but couldn’t.  “I did so many diets over the years. Low carb, high carb, intermittent fasting…” says Lemons. “I tried my hardest and couldn’t get the weight off. At my heaviest I was 400 pounds.”

Meanwhile, the 35-year-old firefighter’s health was suffering because of his obesity. “I had diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, colon issues, and also needed hernia surgery,” remembers Lemons. After two of his physicians recommended that he consider bariatric surgery, Lemons started the process only to learn that his insurance plan didn’t cover weight loss procedures.

Lemons isn’t alone. More than one-third of American adults are considered obese, but only a fraction undergo bariatric surgery.

“Less than one percent of candidates are getting access to surgery. Access is a terrible” explains Dr. Stephen Boyce, bariatric surgeon and Medical Director of the Tennova Center for Surgical Weight Loss and New Life Center for Bariatric Surgery in Knoxville, Tennessee. “The rate of obesity continues to increase, but the number of people being treated for severe obesity hasn’t changed in the last 5 to 10 years. These patients are being grossly underserved for the life-saving medical treatment they need.”

Dr. Stephen Boyce, Bariatric Surgeon

To highlight the issue, Dr. Boyce, Tennova Turkey Creek Medical Center, and American Anesthesiology of Tennessee teamed up to recently provide bariatric surgery to an underserved patient. The effort was part of National Obesity Care Week. Lemons was thrilled to be chosen.

“It’s been life-changing,” says Lemons. “I’ve lost weight and am off my diabetes medicine and coming off my blood pressure meds. It’s already helping in my job. I have more endurance and am able to stay inside a house and fight a fire longer.”

Dr. Boyce says providing the surgery to Lemons highlights the issue of access, but a lot more still needs to be done to make bariatric procedures more widely accepted and available.

“The prejudice around obesity continues in society and even in the medical community. Insurance companies know the surgery can improve patients’ health, but fear they won’t see the cost-savings if a patient changes their insurance plan next year.”

Dr. Boyce believes it will likely take insurance reform and legislation to see fewer barriers to access. “One prospect is 5-year insurance contracts. If insurers knew the patient would be on their plan for five years and that they would reap the cost savings, perhaps they would be more inclined to pay for the surgery.  The surgery pays for itself in a matter of 2-3 years in most cases. Patients need to get involved. Go and talk to insurance companies and to your congressman. Be a voice. Let them know that this life-saving treatment is being withheld.”

Since surgery, Chad has adopted a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise.

Lemons agrees and says it’s important that people work to make bariatric surgery more available. “Many people like me are working hard to get the weight off, and could really benefit from the surgery. They need to keep pushing and never lose hope.”

Attend a free seminar to learn if you may be a candidate for bariatric surgery! Register online or call the New Life office at (865) 694-9676.

About Dr. Stephen Boyce
Stephen G. Boyce, MD, FACS, FASMBS, is a pioneer and educator in bariatric surgery. Since 1989 he has performed more than 5,000 weight-loss surgical procedures. Dr. Boyce has special training in laparoscopic surgery and holds a Masters Certification in Bariatric Surgery. His practice, the New Life Center for Bariatric Surgery in Knoxville, Tennessee, was one of the nation’s first Centers of Excellence.

Dr. Boyce is the Medical Director of the Tennova Center for Surgical Weight Loss at Turkey Creek Medical Center in Knoxville. It is a Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Accreditation and Quality Improvement Program (MBSAQIP) and the only accredited Level 1 facility by the Bariatric Surgery Center Network (BSCN) Accreditation Program for the American College of Surgeons (ACS) in the East Tennessee region.

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