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March 09, 2022

Should employers pay for workers' weight loss surgeries?

In this space, there are usually three powder keg topics that get people riled up.

One is Tim Hortons, of course. Another is Canadian politician pay which, certainly, Canucks think is too high for a bunch of scumbags that are just crooks and morons.

Lastly, we have weight loss – perhaps surprisingly, considering the nature of this blog. But when money comes into the issue, like, say, when a doctor suggests that weight loss surgery should be covered by employee benefit plans, it becomes a new question entirely.

Indeed, earlier this month a University of Alberta obesity expert made headlines when he suggested employer-sponsored benefit plans should subsidize the costs for gastric bypass and banding surgeries, the “best option for long-term weight loss.”

“If I took 100 people off the street, and put half of them on a diet with exercise and put a gastric band on the other half, three years later you’ll find most of the diet and exercise people have put their weight back on,” Dr. Arya Sharma, a Professor of Medicine at U of A, said. “Probably 70 to 80 per cent of the band people will be doing okay, assuming both groups get appropriate follow-up treatment.”

Right now, according to, gastric bypass operations are paid by public healthcare systems in all provinces, but not so for gastric banding. The banding procedure, which can cost up to $16,000 at private clinics across Canada, isn’t covered in B.C. or Ontario, for instance, but is in Alberta – though there’s about a 30-month wait list at some offices.

Now, here’s where we have to address how polarizing this issue is. Advocates of gastric procedures make an interesting argument regarding employers’ sponsoring the surgeries: according to a presentation made at the latest International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans conference, obese employees – ie. candidates for gastric procedures – take 13 times as many days off work than so-called fit workers, and make short- and long-term disability claims that average $7,000 more than their colleagues. In essence, it may be a proactive, cost-cutting measure for employers to consider covering their workforce’s gastric procedure needs, some maintain.

Of course, even in Canada, compassionate as we are, there’s a good chunk of people that scoff at all the above. Short of simply resorting to a stance of “Well, just don’t hire fat workers,” this crude quote from a Moneyville commenter may sum up our national opinion on the matter:

“Let them get off their fat lazy ass and do the exercise that will lose the weight,” writes WJM.

Do you think that, having considered the above workplace data and what it might mean long-term, benefit plans should cover weight loss surgery?

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...