HERSHEY, Pa. — Weighing 380 pounds, Bellefonte resident Dean DeVore was pre-diabetic and struggling with lethargy and sleep apnea. The AccuWeather meteorologist and game announcer for the Penn State Nittany Lions realized he had to do something to gain control over his health. He turned to surgical weight loss and lost 160 pounds.
Pennsylvania residents who, like DeVore, are struggling with obesity have a new option, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Ann Rogers, director of the Penn State Surgical Weight Loss program. After more than a decade of advocacy and more trips to Capitol Hill and the State Capitol than she cares to count, she is celebrating a victory.
As of Jan. 1, Pennsylvania state employees who have a BMI of 40 or more and diabetes are able to get weight-loss surgeries covered by their health insurance. The benefit is thanks in large part to Rogers’ tireless efforts.
“It’s an amazing victory for patients,” Rogers said. “We were one of just a handful of states in the country where state employees did not have a benefit to get bariatric surgery or any sort of treatments for obesity whatsoever. To have this be turned around at the state level is incredibly important.”
The stipulations on weight and diabetes mean that only a small subset of employees and their families — probably only about a quarter of those who need it — are eligible, Rogers said, but it’s a start.
The surgery helps improve or resolve more than 40 obesity-related conditions, such as obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and joint problems. This reduces health care costs for patients by 29 percent within five years after bariatric surgery, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Rogers hopes that the Commonwealth will soon see the value of extending coverage to a broader group of people who could reap its health benefits, she said.
Still, considering the Centers for Disease Control predicts that one-third of U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050, coverage for a treatment that can put the disease into remission is exciting. Currently, 30 million Americans have diabetes, which is the main cause of new-onset blindness and can lead to kidney failure, limb amputation and increased risk for stroke.
“It’s amazing how quickly diabetes can be turned around after bariatric surgery; some patients never need their medications again. That doesn’t happen for everyone, but the vast majority will find that their diabetes is easier to control on less medication,” Rogers said.
Rogers has long been involved on the state and national level in advocating for improved access to care for treatment of obesity. She is Pennsylvania’s Access to Care representative for the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and serves on several national advocacy committees of surgical societies.
Over the years, Rogers has met with state and national legislators, the physician general of Pennsylvania and Gov. Tom Wolfe. Each year, she makes presentations to the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund about the safety, effectiveness and health benefits of weight-loss surgery.
Learn more about Dr. Rogers and her advocacy on this issue in this Penn State Medicine article.