Fraud Warnings: Diabetes & Weight Loss

weight loss diabetes scamScammers looking to defraud the Government and take money from Americans have a new target: people with diabetes. The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG)–which fights fraud in Government programs–has issued a warning about a scheme in which people receive a call from someone pretending to be from ‘the Government’, ‘Medicare’, or a diabetes association.  These scammers offer free healthcare products, such as glucose meters, diabetic test strips, heating pads, lift seats, foot orthotics, and joint braces. In turn, they ask for Medicare or financial information. The OIG says that these calls are a scam and there are steps to take if you receive a call as described, or any other suspicious call requesting medical or financial information. Medical fraud is a significant issue in the United States and it is important to be cautious and protective of your personal, financial and insurance information.

The OIG has provided some steps to protecting healthcare information: Of top priority is to safeguard one’s Medicare number and other personal information; once information is in the hands of a dishonest person or supplier, the patient is susceptible to further scams.  Also, be cautious of “free” products, as they often are billed to insurance and open the patient up to more communication from the scammers. Additionally, it is important to thoroughly check insurance statements for any duplicate items or things that were not ordered. The OIG advises that if a patient receives something in the mail that wasn’t ordered, they should refuse the delivery and/or return to the sender, recording any identifying information on the package to report. Medicare patients can report any questionable calls or activity to the OIG Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or

Healthcare-related scams are not limited to insurance fraud either. The FDA tracks medication fraud and has reported an emerging trend in weight loss products in which over-the-counter products, frequently represented as dietary supplements, contain hidden active ingredients that could be harmful. These products have been found to be laced with varying amounts of approved controlled substances, prescription drug ingredients, as well as untested and unstudied pharmaceutically-active ingredients, all of which can be dangerous. Just last month, the FDA warned of a diet product called Japan Weight Loss Blue, that was found to contain sibutramine, a controlled substance that was removed from the U.S. market in October 2010 because it was shown to increase blood pressure or pulse rate in some patients. It may also interact in life threatening ways with other medications a consumer may be taking. Several other products marketed for weight loss have been found to deceptively contain sibutramine as well, including Slender Slim 11, Advanced Slim 5, and A-Slim 100% Natural Slimming Capsule — a product claiming to be natural. Consumers who use these products are advised to stop taking them immediately and throw them away. Any negative side effects should be reported to a health care professional. Dr. Tom Umbach, expert weight loss surgeon in the Las Vegas area, explained that “for dealing with medicare and really any kind of fraud the best advice is still from our parents: there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Go figure, our parents advice is still the best advice.” Umbach concluded that to avoid potentially lethal fake weight loss medications, it is always best to develop a face to face relationship with your local bariatric physician.

You can read about all of the recent tainted weight loss product warnings here.

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