A Google Maps screenshot of a Lap-Band billboard on W 11th Street, Los Angeles, Calif. The billboards are under fire after the FDA criticized their misleading displays.
The California Department of Insurance has launched a fraud probe into Lap-Band affiliated surgery centers connected with the 1-800-GET-THIN advertising campaign.
"The California Department of Insurance is investigating the surgery centers," said Dave Althausen, deputy press secretary with the California Department of Insurance. "We are only looking into the surgery centers for allegations of insurance fraud." 1-800-GET-THIN itself is not part of the investigation; 1-800-GET-THIN markets the Lap-Band surgery for these surgery centers, but does not own or operate them.
Aetna, a major insurance company, is also working with the Southern California Fraud Division of the Department of Insurance to investigate "alleged fraud against our members by the surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN," according to spokesperson Anjie Coplin.
"1-800 GET-THIN does not, has not and has never engaged in any type of medical billing as it is only a marketing company that does not provide any medical services," said Robert Silverman, president of 1-800-GET-THIN.
"1-800-GET-THIN has never engaged in any type of insurance fraud and has not been contacted by the Department of Insurance. 1-800-GET-THIN is unaware of any criminal probe or investigation."
The probe comes a month after inquiries by the Food and Drug Administration into Lap-Band weight-loss surgery ads, and less than a week after calls from Congress to investigate the safety of 1-800-GET-THIN's marketing campaign.
"We believe the Committee should hold hearings to examine whether FDA device regulation has been ineffective in protecting the public from dangerous medical devices like the Lap-Band," said Rep. Henry Waxman in a letter to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the L.A. Times reported. Rep. Diana DeGette and Rep. John D. Dingell also signed the letter.
At least five Southern California patients have died after Lap-Band procedures at clinics in Beverly Hills and West Hills that are affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN campaign, reports the Los Angeles Times after investigating various lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.
The Lap-Band surgery involves attaching an inflatable silicone device placed around the top portion of the stomach to treat obesity by reducing excess body fat.
Correction: This story originally had a quote from California Department of Insurance deputy press secretary Dave Althausen referring to "the surgery centers of 1-800-GET-THIN." 1-800-GET-THIN markets the Lap-Band surgery for these surgery centers, but does not own or operate them.