Surgeons found fiddling with patients' BMI

Some surgeons are not applying the rules too strictly when it comes to deciding who qualifies for having stomach band surgery refunded by the health care system. This was revealed by an under cover operation in the VRT TV programme 'Volt'. The programme also invited a dietician, who was shocked: "This is not about health care, this is about money."

In Belgium, some 10,000 Belgians are undergoing stomach surgery to lose weight every year. The price tag ranges between 6,000 and 8,000 euros, but patients that can get a refund through the health care system are only paying 1,200 euros.

However, a refund is only possible if certain conditions are being met. The patient has to be battling a BMI of 40 or more. 35 or more is also possible if other risk factors are involved, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

'Creative' solutions

'Volt' revealed that some surgeons don't hesitate to bend the rules just a little bit. A woman with a BMI of 37 but without any other risk factors was sent to different specialists. One surgeon refused her, but others came up with creative solutions. Height and weight were adapted, or suggestions were made to the patient: "Stick some extra weight in your bra, or drink a litre of water just before you come."

"Don't underestimate the pressure"

Dietician Tanja Callewaert was shocked when she was shown the footage: "This is crazy. This has nothing to do with health care. This is commerce, while a patient's health should be the first concern."

Speaking for the surgeons, Yves Van Nieuwenhove told 'Volt' that he was not surprised by the film. He does not deny that surgeons can gain some extra money if the operation goes ahead. But he also points to the pressure patients are sometimes putting on the surgeon. "Don't underestimate this. Sometimes people really want this operation. I can assure you that's it easier for us to explain the patient how the operation will unfold and what the effects will be, than to explain why someone does not qualify for the stomach surgery."