Lawmaker wants taxpayers to continue paying for weight loss surgeries

Part of a pilot program, started in 2012, is using tax dollars to pay for weight loss surgeries for all state employees, this includes gastric bypass or lap banding.

Taxpayers have already paid $9 million for surgeries, and now a lawmaker wants to continue funding the program.

The program ran from 2012-2016, however, SB522 filed by Senator Eddie Cheatham (D-26) would extend it through 2021.

Since the program started, 775 state employees have undergone a weight loss surgery, or bariatric procedure according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, and Sen. Cheatham is hoping to continue efforts to curb the obesity rate in Arkansas.

"The National American Diabetes Association came out this year, this January, saying that this was one way for type II diabetics that the medicine wasn't working…could relieve them and matter of fact actually get off medication,” said Sen. Cheatham.

Sen. Cheatham touts lowering health care costs by Arkansans becoming healthier, but Senator David Sanders (R-15) is skeptical of the results until he sees the data.

"The state employees and the Arkansas teachers are a health plan that's paid by our state employees and our teachers, but also paid for by the taxpayers…at the very least, what we should be doing right now is trying to understand all of the cases that we have,” said Sanders.

Sen. Sanders added, before lawmakers give the green light on SB522, the legislature should assess whether they are spending more than they are saving.

"What I wouldn't want to do is to throw more excess costs on top of the plan, again these are taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Sanders.

Sen. Cheatham tells KATV he plans to bring the bill up for a vote in the Arkansas Senate on Monday.

KATV will continue to update this story

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