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California launches fraud probe into Lap-Band surgery centers

A billboard for the Lap Band over the 210 freeway.
Corey Bridwell/KPCC
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.

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.

Correction: This story originally described the surgery centers as "1-800-GET-THIN surgery centers" and 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.

This story has been updated.