Collin County Trims the Fat, Axes Lap-Band Surgery

County's employee health insurance will no longer pay for procedure

Citing fiscal responsibility, Collin County commissioners decided to end health care coverage of weight-loss surgery for county employees.

Since 2002, 150 county employees have had lap-band, or bariatric, surgery to the tune of $3 million, approximately $350,000 annually.

Commissioners said they can't justify using tax dollars in tough economic times to pay for the surgeries.

"I can't see taking money from one citizen and giving it to another for this type of procedure," said Commissioner Matt Shaheen.

The vote was 5-0 in favor of ending the health care benefit.

Several doctors who specialize in lap-band surgery appealed to commissioners to reconsider, saying obesity a disease that affects millions of people physically and emotionally.

At least two commissioners, Shaheen and Jerry Hoagland, said they disagreed.

"I just don't believe it's a disease," Hoagland said. "It's not like cancer."

County employees who've had the procedure said it changed their lives.

"I'd gotten to the point where I'd given up on life, because I was so huge, and of course I'm emotional, because this has not only saved my life, it's given me a life," said Becky James, who has worked for the county for nearly 30 years.

James, who now weighs 147 pounds, weighed 469 pounds when she had the surgery. She refers to herself as Collin County's "Biggest Loser."

Collin County employees considering the surgery have 60 days to see if they qualify. After that, employees who are not already in the mandatory pre-surgery program will not have the surgery paid for by the county's health care plan.

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