Health insurance companies, it appears, are uncannily skilled at creating cute, sweet poster children... for the other side of the health reform debate. Just two weeks ago, Colorado insurer, Rocky Mountain Health Plans denied health coverage of four-month-old Alex Lange because, by growth chart standards, Alex is obese.
Now, according to a report by The Denver Channel, a local affiliate of ABC News, little two-year old Aislin Bates of Erie, Colo. is getting a similar dose of rejection. This time, however, it is because she's underweight and, this time, it's a much bigger insurer: UnitedHealthcare.
At 22 pounds, Aislin, is indeed slim for her age. But, according to her parents, she's in perfect health. Nevertheless, when her now self-employed father applied for private health coverage through United, he received a disconcerting response. In a letter from United Healthcare Golden Rule that the family shared with TheDenverChannel.com, the insurer wrote: "We are unable to provide coverage for Aislin because her height and weight do not meet our company standards."
A United spokesperson quickly came to the company's defense, telling TheDenverChannel.com: "[Our growth charts] are based on several medical sources, including the Centers for Disease Control, and are well within industry standards." Besides, the spokewoman notes, 89% of people who apply for health insurance get it. Great odds, hmm?
Well, United, an 11 percent denial rate is a way bigger number than I'm willing to accept. And as I wrote before, this is a typically risk-averse approach to health insurance coverage which leaves even the responsible, prudent families out in the streets because insurance companies fear paying their medical bills. And let's consider the possibility a family is irresponsible and occasionally feeds their kids junk food (or, in Aislin's case, not enough junk food); are we really saying that they don't have any right to be healthy and free of the crushing weight of medical bills?
Soon after Alex Lange's denial became top-of-the-hour news (Alex, by the way, did an adorable job of mugging for the TV cameras thanks, in part, to his news-anchor father), Rocky Mountain Health reversed its decision and changed its underwriting policies.
It was one of those David and Goliath stories you want to rejoice in except this Goliath was nowhere near as big as United Healthcare, and the battle nowhere near as big as the one most Americans are facing with large, national health insurance organizations. Unfortunately, Rocky Mountain's decision hardly made a dent in the prospects for healthy little boys and girls in the rest of the country that just so happen to fall on the edges of growth charts.
After all, according to most insurance companies' actuarial tables, only the healthy have any right to health care. And even some of those are denied coverage as a result of charts and spendthrift "policies." Good job, United: you've got yourself a poster girl.
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