Colo. insurer changes course on fat infants

DENVER (AP) - October 13, 2009

Rocky Mountain Health Plans said Monday it will no longer consider obesity a "pre-existing condition" barring coverage for hefty infants.

The change comes after the insurer turned down a Grand Junction 4-month-old who weighs about 17 pounds. The insurer deemed Alex Lange - called by his parents a "happy little chunky monkey" - obese and said the infant didn't qualify for coverage.

The infant's father works at a local NBC affiliate, KKCO-TV, and news accounts about the boy's rejection made national headlines.

The insurer said Monday it would change its policy for babies who are healthy but fat. The company attributed the boy's rejection for health coverage to a "flaw in our underwriting system."

"We have changed our policy, corrected our underwriting guidelines and are working to notify the parents of the infant who we earlier denied," Rocky Mountain Health Plans said in a statement.

The company is the same insurer praised by President Barack Obama and ruling Democrats for having one of the nation's lowest Medicare reimbursement rates. The Grand Junction-based insurer grew out of an agreement by area doctors that all would accept patients using government health insurance, lowering costs.

Alex Lange's parents said they wanted to switch insurers because of rising rates but were surprised to find their youngest boy was too fat to get covered. Father Bernie Lange joked to The Denver Post that the breast-feeding infant wasn't about to start a diet or hop on a treadmill to shed pounds.

"There is just something absurd about denying an infant," Bernie Lange said.

Born at just over 8 pounds, the boy's current weight puts him in the 99th percentile for babies his age. The company says it's an industry standard to reject new patients, including babies, above the 95th percentile for weight. But it says it has never before rejected a fat baby.

The boy's mother, Kelli Lange, said her baby has had nothing but breast milk and that his brief insurance rejection didn't change how she fed him.

"I'm not going to withhold food to get him down below that number of 95," she told The Denver Post.
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