Weight loss surgery is a complex topic. For starters, there are a number of different weight loss surgeries being performed today, and it can be difficult to wade through all options without feeling overwhelmed.
It's a big decision to commit to a weight loss procedure and one that we know isn't taken lightly. But when you get to a certain point with your health, it can feel like there are no other options to help you lose weight and improve your wellbeing.
And, there's no shame in seeking help with weight loss, especially when you take into account that your genetics are largely responsible — in fact, up to 80 per cent of weight is determined by our genes.
This is why, despite your best efforts with eating and exercise, your body can work against you and resist weight loss by triggering hormones that increase hunger and slow the metabolism.
With this in mind, we've created a handy guide on everything you need to know about weight loss surgery and the costs associated with these procedures. And, we'll also explore a less invasive, more affordable and effective medical pathway to weight loss. Let's dive in.
Different types of weight loss surgery
There are a few different types of weight loss surgery, which is also referred to as bariatric surgery. Each one differs in application, but the end result is to limit the amount of food your stomach can hold to encourage the consumption of fewer calories.
Gastric sleeve surgery, also known as sleeve gastrectomy, involves removing a sizeable section of the stomach in order to reduce the amount of food you can eat. By reducing the size of the stomach, the body also naturally produces less of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin.
This form of bariatric surgery is successful in helping patients achieve weight loss in a short amount of time and can reduce their chances of experiencing a stroke, cancer and obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea.
The most common risks associated with gastric sleeve surgery are bleeding and leakage from the stomach as well as nutrient deficiencies. It's also important to note that long-term success following a gastric sleeve operation does involve making lifestyle changes to ensure you can keep the weight off into the future as the stomach is capable of stretching again, leading to weight regain.
Gastric band surgery, also known as a lap band, involves implanting an inflatable tube around the upper part of the stomach to restrict how much you can eat. The band, which is made of flexible silicone, is filled with salt water and is connected to a port underneath the skin that a bariatric surgeon can access to make it larger or smaller.
Gastric band surgery is reversible and has one of the lowest complication rates following surgery as no permanent change is being made to the stomach and intestines. The expected weight loss after gastric band surgery is about 40 per cent of your body weight over two years.
While it is effective in aiding weight loss, there are also risks associated with this surgery. Complications associated with the lap band include food intolerance, where patients develop issues with swallowing, severe nausea and vomiting, as well as heartburn, reflux and esophageal dilation, where the food can become stuck in the esophagus.
One of the most common forms of weight loss surgery, the gastric bypass procedure involves dividing the stomach and creating a small pouch at the top, which is then connected to the small intestine. The idea here is that when you consume food, it goes into the small pouch before moving into the small intestine, bypassing the bulk of the stomach.
This means that you feel fuller with less food and in turn, absorb fewer calories, which encourages weight loss. Gastric bypass surgery can also help reduce your risk of developing weight-related issues like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
A side effect that can occur following gastric bypass surgery is anastomotic leaking, which happens in one to six per cent of these procedures. This complication occurs when the two ends of a channel that have been connected don't seal properly and the content begins to leak.
This is a serious risk as substances that don't belong in certain areas of the body can make their way there through the faulty connection.
If left untreated, long-term complications of anastomotic leaking can include ulcers and scarring as well as the creation of a fistula (a drainage tract) between the gastric pouch and stomach.
Another weight-loss option is the gastric balloon. While not strictly a surgery, this procedure is often recommended to those who may need to lose weight in order to be eligible for a more permanent bariatric surgery.
This procedure involves inserting a silicone inflatable balloon into the stomach in order to make you fuller with less food. Unlike the other procedures, a gastric balloon is only a temporary option and can't be left in place for longer than nine months.
This procedure isn't as invasive as the others and can be inserted without the need for traditional surgical procedures. The balloon is inserted into the stomach with an endoscopy, which involves inserting a camera down the throat and oesophagus.
There are still side effects associated with gastric balloons, including developing acid reflux, constipation or diarrhoea, bowel obstruction and the perforation of the stomach or oesophagus.
What are the risks involved with weight loss surgery?
As with all surgical procedures, there are a number of risks associated with each weight loss surgery and this is something to be considered when weighing up options.
The most common post-operation side effects associated with these procedures include:
- Acid reflux
- Chronic nausea
- Inability to eat certain foods
- Stomach obstruction
There are also long-term effects of weight loss surgery. These can commonly include:
- Bowel obstruction
There are a few things you can do to help reduce your risk before surgery. These include decreasing your body mass index (BMI), engaging in exercise and quitting smoking.
All of these changes can increase your overall health and wellbeing and help lower the occurrence of these potential side effects.
How common is weight gain following bariatric surgery?
Initial weight loss following surgery can range from 47 to 80 per cent of excess weight. And, while the intention behind bariatric surgery is to help with weight loss and improve health, it's also common to experience weight gain in the 12 to 18 months after surgery, with 15 to 25 per cent of the lost weight often regained.
While the reasons behind the weight gain can differ for people, it's usually because the stomach has stretched or due to food or lifestyle choices.
This can feel incredibly disheartening but know that you're not alone and it's good to have all of this information before making the decision to undergo bariatric surgery. This also helps highlight the importance of making a lifestyle change at the same time as bariatric surgery to ensure the results are long-term.
What is the cost of weight loss surgery?
Bariatric surgery costs vary on a number of factors but it is major surgery and does come at a high cost. We've rounded up the prices associated with each surgery in Australia — all of these prices are excluding assistance from private health insurance.
The cost of gastric band surgery costs between AUD $14,000 to AUD $18,000.
The gastric bypass surgery cost depends on where you have the surgery performed but the average cost of gastric bypass surgery can range from AUD $12,500 to AUD $20,000.
Given the gastric balloon is not considered to be on the same level as the above bariatric procedures, the cost is significantly lower, coming in around the AUD $6,000 mark. Keep in mind that this procedure is only a temporary one and the balloon needs to be removed after nine months.
Why does weight loss surgery cost so much?
There are a lot of costs associated with bariatric procedures, which is why the out-of-pocket expenses are quite steep. These are the costs that make up the final fee:
- Pre-operative appointments
- Surgeon and surgical assistant fees
- Anaesthesist fees
- Theatre costs
- Booking fees
- Hospital stay
It's good to know that the costs aren't just associated with the actual surgery itself but you might need to attend a number of appointments before surgery, in addition to follow-up appointments after, and these could attract out-of-pocket costs.
There is also the possibility that patients may have to work with a dietitian before the surgery in order to meet a goal weight that will ensure the procedure is less of a risk.
Does Medicare cover any weight loss surgeries?
In Australia, Medicare does cover a portion of some weight-loss surgeries but only under certain circumstances. To qualify for coverage from Medicare for a weight loss surgery, a patient would have to meet some of the following criteria:
- Have a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 and be able to demonstrate weight-related health problems like type 2 diabetes or have a high risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Have a BMI of 35 to 39.9 and be able to demonstrate related health issues like hypertension, metabolic syndrome, osteoarthritis or asthma.
- Have a BMI of 40 and higher, which qualifies you without proving related health problems.
Patients would also have to demonstrate that they have tried to lose weight in the past but have been unsuccessful.
It's important to keep in mind that the whole cost of the surgery won't be covered by Medicare, rather just a portion of it.
It's difficult to ascertain exactly how much you'll need to pay after Medicare foots some of the bill, but it could be anything from AUD $12,000 to AUD $18,000 depending on the procedure and where it is performed.
Does private health insurance cover weight loss surgery?
Most private health funds cover bariatric procedures like gastric bypass, gastric sleeve and lap band but these procedures are often only covered in the gold tier private health insurance policies.
There is also usually a 12-month waiting period with these health fund policies before you're covered and a private health insurer won't cover the whole cost of the weight loss surgery but, depending on your policy, should take care of a large chunk.
In saying this, patients can still pay up to AUD $6,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for bariatric surgery. As we mentioned above, if the weight loss surgery is considered to be medically necessary, Medicare may also contribute towards covering some of the costs alongside the health fund.
Can you get weight loss surgery for free in Australia?
While it's not easy to have the costs of bariatric surgery completely covered in Australia, there are ways to get weight loss procedures for free.
One way is through the regionally-based Metabolic Obesity Service (MOS), which is offered by NSW Health. This service offers a pathway to bariatric surgery and combines support and education that focuses on behaviour change in order to make a lasting difference in a person's life post-surgery.
There are four phases included in the MOS, which include weekly workshops and monthly appointments to learn new behaviours and how to put these skills to use before undergoing a surgical consultation and eventually, the weight loss procedure.
There are also post-surgery follow-up appointments as well as support and coaching for at least two years after the bariatric surgery. The MOS program has been designed to guide patients through the whole process so that behavioural change is achieved alongside physical weight loss.
There are a number of inclusion criteria that need to be met to take part in a service like this, including obtaining a GP referral, having tried to lose weight in the past with little success and having a BMI of 40 to 55. You must also live in a rural or remote area of NSW to qualify.
And, the total weight time to begin the process is around two years. This is a good example of how difficult it is to have surgical procedures for weight loss performed without having to financially contribute.
A less-invasive alternative to weight loss surgery
Deciding to go down the path of bariatric surgery takes a lot of courage. It's a huge decision to make and one that you can labour over for years.
And, it's understandable why this is the case, especially when you take into account the cost, the surgery itself and the recovery. It's an emotionally, physically and financially demanding experience.
It can also feel like you've run out of options when you get to a point where you feel like your body is working against you. When you take into account that up to 80 per cent of weight is determined by your genetics, it no longer becomes about willpower as your biology is getting in the way — no matter how much physical activity you do or low-calorie foods you eat.
This is why Pilot created the Metabolic Reset Program. It's a treatment plan involving breakthrough medication that is clinically proven to regulate hunger, alongside dietitian-led health coaching and weekly check-ins with your practitioner to track how you're going. On this program, members can lose 10 to 15 per cent of their body weight in one year.
Australian men are frustrated by their inability to both lose weight and keep it off, which is why we created an alternative solution that has been proven to work for thousands of men. In fact, patients on the Metabolic Reset Program have together lost more than 8,500 kilograms.
Due to regulations laid out by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), we are unable to list the medication here by name. You will have to proceed to the online practitioner's consult stage on Pilot and be approved by the doctor to learn the specifics of the medication.
But, we can talk about the origins of the medication and how it works. This medication was approved in 2017 for doctors to prescribe for weight management in Australia. Previously, it was prescribed for diabetics before researchers realised the useful application the meds had on regulating the metabolism and hunger hormones.
This daily medication resets your metabolic patterns by slowing digestion, decreasing appetite and safely lowering your body's 'set point', which is the weight your body fights to maintain according to your biology.
The weekly check-in with your Pilot practitioner helps track your physical, mental, and biometric progress, while a team of dedicated health coaches, nutritionists and dietitians are always on hand to provide helpful tips and behavioural guidance for setting those long-term habits.
Clinical research from studies on this medication shows just how effective it is for weight loss. In a 2017 study, one-quarter of patients lost more than 10 per cent of their body weight after five months. In a 2020 study, after one year on the medication, the average weight loss was 12.1 per cent of body weight. The results are even more significant with behavioural coaching.
Pharmacies charge the exact same for this medication alone, but Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program throws in all the tools for lasting success, including dietitian-led coaching, digital scales, recipe plans, access to a community of men on the program with you, and all of those follow-ups with a team of Australian practitioners.
We do that because we want you to succeed and because we believe you deserve to. You don't have to do this alone, we're here if you need.