Private financing companies are making their presence felt in the healthcare sector by extending loans to customers undergoing the costly bariatric surgery to tackle problems of weight. Companies are ready to provide loans to patients to help them take the plunge and undergo the pricey procedure.

“A bariatric surgery can cost anywhere from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh depending on the hospital and the surgeon. The high cost is a major deterrent and patients tend to avoid surgery. But the option of being able to pay the hospital bill in installments without any rate of interest is an excellent proposition,” said Dr Praveen Bhatia, consultant surgeon and medical director, at the Bhatia Global Hospital and Endosurgery Institute. He is also the chairman of the Institute of Minimal Access, Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

“In the United States, an average of four lakh bariatric surgeries are conducted annually. But in India, there are hardly 10,000 odd bariatric surgeries done in a year, even though obesity is high among Indians. Availability of easy finance modules in the US helps patients there pay the hospital bills in easy EMIs (equated monthly installments). This was very much needed in India and it is good to know that health insurance companies here have now realised that this facility is in the best interests of all,” said Dr Bhatia.

“Patients tend to be casual about bariatric surgeries as obesity doesn’t pose an immediate threat to life, like cancer does. So patients tend to procrastinate. Not being able to shell out big amounts of money at one go is also a reason. However, what obese patients fail to realise is that obesity is a slow killer. The amount of money they spend over the years to treat various other health complications that arise because of obesity, is greater than the cost of one surgery. Going under the knife once proves more affordable in the long run than bearing the recurring cost of medicines and treatment,” said Dr. Vandana Soni, senior consultant, Max Institute of Minimal Access, Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery, Saket.

A new “financial product” that Bajaj Finance Limited has launched makes bariatric surgeries affordable and allows obese and overweight patients pay the whole cost of the surgery through easy EMI finance. Explaining the module, Kuldeep Bhat, Regional Manager, Bajaj Finance Limited, said, “This facility is only two months old. A patient after getting an estimate of the entire cost of surgery from the hospital can now come to us to avail easy EMI finance for bariatric procedures. The down payment can vary from 30-35% depending on the overall cost and the EMIs, too, are appropriated accordingly. A patient can pay the whole amount in about a year or more depending on the instalments. There are around seven to eight hospitals in the city that have collaborated with us and so far, we have registered 15 cases that benefited from the new finance module.” Until now, a similar “financial product” was available only for other surgeries like knee replacements etc. This will be the first instance in the country of extending loans to patients for bariatric procedures. With the approval time of just 30 minutes, the scheme claims to be one of the fastest in the country.

“Such initiatives make more sense in a country like India, where one in six adults is obese and one in five adults suffers from diabetes and hypertension. It is well documented that weight loss surgeries are extremely beneficial to help achieve long-term weight loss goals and in improving health complications like diabetes and hypertension, associated with obesity,” says Dr Ajay Kumar Kriplani, director and head of department, Minimal Access Surgery at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurgaon.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 20-40% of the adult population and 10-20% of children in India, are affected by obesity. Medical records reveal that around 20% of patients opt out of bariatric surgeries because of financial problems.

Bariatric surgeries are mainly of three types: laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, laparoscopic bypass and mini gastric bypass. While the three procedures are different, the stomach size is reduced in all the cases, which in turn reduces the food intake and helps in weight loss.

Though the surgery is extremely helpful in reducing and improving co-morbid conditions like diabetes and other weight related issues, use of advanced technology and technique sometimes makes the procedure expensive for the patient.

“Obesity is a disease that needs as much attention as any other health issue. We have long tried to make people aware of its consequences.

This finance module will increase the number of patients who will now be able to afford the expensive surgery. Why should anyone stay obese when medicine has a cure? Obesity is the result of poor lifestyle management and surgeries are not the answer to eliminate obesity; only healthy living is the cure,” said Dr Pradeep Jain, chief of department, bariatric surgery, Action Balaji Hospital.

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