Obese government workers in South Carolina can get stomach-shrinking surgery through the state health plan under a pilot program that starts in January.
The state's employee insurance plan will cover gastric-bypass or Lap-Band surgery costs for 100 people statewide on a first-come, first-serve basis, said Stephen VanCamp, director of the employee insurance program.
The surgeries - which involve either surgically creating a smaller stomach or shrinking intake with a belt-like, adjustable device - cost about $24,000 each. Lawmakers required the test program in the 2010-11 budget as a way to address the state's growing obesity problem. The Budget and Control Board was directed to create it as part of workers' benefits plan for 2011, which it approved Thursday.
The Legislature funded the program, as well as an additional $19 million in costs next year because of the new federal health care law - largely for extending coverage to dependents up to age 26 - so employees' monthly health premiums will not change. Nearly 394,000 public workers, their dependents and retirees are covered under the state health plan.
Obesity rates in South Carolina have doubled since 1990, with 30 percent of adults meeting the definition. Nearly two of every three adults in the state are considered overweight or obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.