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Michael Hiltzik: More on the Lap-Band guys

March 3, 2010 |  8:55 pm

Sufferers of chronic physical ailments are especially vulnerable to pitches for miracle cures, or even distant hopes that come with big price tags. That's not to say that every doctor who treats them is acting unscrupulously -- indeed, many are among our most selfless healthcare providers -- but that they deserve especially vigilant protection by our regulators.

Obesity surgery is a fast-growing segment of medical treatment. My column, appearing this week on Thursday, asks whether state and federal regulations are up to the task of policing all corners of the field.

The example at hand is TopSurgeons, sponsors of the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign. I previously wrote about this entity on Feb. 14, when I detailed the the run-in its principals have had with the Medical Board of Callifornia -- that is, the revocation of Julian Omidi's license and the probationary period imposed on Dr. Michael Omidi

The federal government's letter revoking the Medicare/Medicaid certification of the Omidis' surgery center is here. The report of the state and federal inspection of the clinic is here. Fair warning: Don't read it on a full stomach.

The column begins below.

The waiting room of the Beverly Hills surgery clinic was teeming with customers on a recent Saturday, with many of the patients there for the weight-loss operation hawked on freeway billboards, bus placards, and TV and radio commercials across Southern California: 1-800-GET-THIN.

But few, if any, were probably aware of the troubled history of the medical suite where they might be waiting to undergo major surgery. 

Suite 106 at 9001 Wilshire Blvd., currently known as the Beverly Hills Surgery Center, has for years been a business address of TopSurgeons, the sponsors of the ubiquitous marketing campaign for the lap-band -- a surgical implant designed to suppress the appetite of obese patients and normally prescribed for those who are at least 75 to 100 pounds overweight.

As I I wrote last month, the people behind TopSurgeons are the Omidi brothers -- Julian, whose medical license was revoked in 2009, and Michael, who was placed on three years’ probation for gross negligence in 2008,according to the Medical Board of California.  TopSurgeons attracts customers in part by pitching the lap-band to people who, according to conventional medical guidelines, shouldn't need major surgery to shed weight. 

The Omidis formerly operated the Wilshire Boulevard facility as the Almont Ambulatory Surgery Center. Almont lost an important federal certification last summer after inspectors determined that conditions there posed "immediate jeopardy to the health and safety" of patients. The government's cancellation of the clinic's certification, which was effective July 20, meant it could no longer receive payments from Medicare and Medicaid for treating the programs' members.

Read the whole column.

-Michael Hiltzik