Poll: Should obese patients pay more for ambulance transport to the hospital?

Nearly one-third of the American population is obese, and 5 percent is classified as morbidly obese, defined as more than 100 pounds overweight.

The obese are more likely to have health issues, and, subsequently require more frequent trips to the hospital. Ambulance workers say that patients weighing over 350 pounds present additional challenges to transport, and require specialized equipment and additional workers.

Where should the money come from to cover the costs of transporting extremely obese patients?

The ambulance industry wants to be able to pass on the expenses to insurance companies. It can cost 2½ times more to transport extremely heavy patients to the hospital than it costs to move non-obese patients. Customizing an ambulance with lifts and heavy-duty equipment can run up to $10,000, and it may require 3 or 4 health care workers.

In the absence of specialized equipment, ambulance crews have moved extremely overweight patients with forklifts and flat-bed trucks — which probably did the patient’s dignity no favors.

Some states already charge more for extremely overweight patients. But there are critics who argue levying additional charges on obese patients is discrimination, and passing these costs to insurers ultimately raises costs for everybody.

This issue highlights another way obesity contributes to spiraling health costs. Resources would be better spent preventing obesity in the first place — before patients reach the point of needing more costly, oversized ambulance equipment.

I encourage you to listen and vote in this week’s poll, located both below, and in the upper right column of the blog.