According to the health insurance company Aetna, the California Department of Insurance has started an investigation into the business practices of weight-loss surgery centers associated with the 1-800-GET-THIN marketing initiative, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The 1-800-GET-THIN campaign markets the Lap-Band procedure, which is used to treat obesity by surgically implanting a ring around the stomach to discourage overeating (Pfeifer, Los Angeles Times, 1/26).
In December 2011, FDA sent warning letters to 1-800-GET-THIN and its affiliated surgery centers about ads that were misleading about the procedure.
The company later added a disclosure to its website, saying the surgeries can result in death.
Since 2009, five Southern California patients have died after having the Lap-Band procedure, according to autopsy reports, lawsuits and public records.
Los Angeles County supervisors are examining whether the county can regulate weight-loss ads (California Healthline, 1/24).
In addition, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and members of Congress are examining the ads and risks associated with Lap-Band surgeries.
Details of Possible State Investigation
Aetna said it was cooperating with the state insurance department's law enforcement branch to "investigate alleged fraud against our members by the 1-800-GET-THIN ... surgery centers."
CDI spokesperson David Althausen neither confirmed nor denied that the department was investigating the centers.
Officials with 1-800-GET-THIN and its affiliated surgery centers said that they did not know of the CDI investigation and that they have not broken any laws.
Robert Silverman, president of 1-800-GET-THIN, said the company "has never engaged in any type of insurance fraud and has not been contacted by the Department of Insurance" (Los Angeles Times, 1/26).