Monthly Archives: October 2009

Insurance Company Tries to Deny Health Insurance to Large Baby

Laurie and Debbie say:

We’ve been thinking about the story of Alex Lange, which was in the news earlier this month. Alex is a four-month-old baby, entirely breast-fed, 99th percentile in height and weight.

Alex Lange on his mother's lap

He’s a big boy.

But in the cold, calculating numbered charts of insurance companies, he is fat. That’s why he is being turned down for health insurance.

Alex’s pre-existing condition — “obesity” — makes him a financial risk.

By fortunate chance, Alex’s father is a part-time news anchor on a local TV station, which publicized the story. And the insurance company changed its tune and “attributed the boy’s rejection for health coverage to ‘a flaw in our underwriting system.'”

You could hardly have a purer example of the collective insanity about fat in this society.

We could talk about this story from a size acceptance perspective: we could talk about health at any size, fatphobia, and any number of other approaches.

We could talk about the health values of breastfeeding.

Emphasizing the value of breastfeeding for both mothers and children, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then supplemented breastfeeding for at least one year and up to two years or more. While recognizing the superiority of breastfeeding, regulating authorities also work to minimize the risks of artificial feeding. (NOTE: We are aware that many women can’t breastfeed, and that many healthy babies are not breastfed. But in this context, where an insurance company challenged the health of a breastfed baby, the general value of breastfeeding is important.)

We could talk about health insurance policy, and public health.

But we want to talk about an underlying truth, which may not be quite as obvious. When the underwriters made the initial decision, they weren’t saying anything about Alex’s projected health in a year, or two. No one is really saying that childhood obesity (let alone infant obesity) is a marker for the child’s health. Instead, they’re saying that an insurance company can think thirty, forty, sixty years ahead, into a future that none of us can see, and make projections that change people’s lives.

In thirty years, Alex will probably be a tall man. That’s about all we know. We don’t know if he’ll be fat or thin. We don’t know if he’ll be an athlete or sedentary. We don’t know if he’ll eat well or badly. We don’t even know how eating well and eating badly will be defined in thirty years. We don’t know what his cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, or other “predictive” numbers will be. We don’t know if he’ll be an optimist or a pessimist or somewhere in between. We don’t know a damned thing about him except that he’s a large baby.

And somehow the collective insanity has led too many people to believe that knowing that he’s a large baby is enough to go on. That insurance company didn’t change its mind because it thinks it was wrong: it changed its mind because Alex’s dad works in television. You know there are fat babies out there who don’t have Alex’s connections who have been denied coverage in the exact same way, and those insurance companies aren’t changing their policies.

Because they think that weighing 17 pounds at four months means he doesn’t deserve health support and backup. And they’re wrong.

Fat Cat Fight Continued

In 2006, I wrote a post here called “Fat Cat Fight” about a run-in I had with a fatphobic veterinarian over my big, shaggy, black cat El Nino, who had an abscess. When we arrived at the emergency pet hospital, the vet found that Nino, who most certainly has some Maine Coon cat somewhere in his gene pool, weighed 32 pounds. The vet freaked out and tried to stage an intervention, demanding that I restrict Nino’s food. She went as far as ignoring my protests and faxing my regular vet to say I would be bringing him in to start this process the next day.

My opinion was and is that this vet had her own issues about fat and eating, and I wasn’t about to follow her advice and starve the cat. However, I did look at what I was feeding him. It was a fairly expensive dry cat food with corn as one of the main ingredients. My research told me corn can be bad for cats.

I did some experimenting, including all raw meat, not a total hit with the cats, and hopelessly intense for me. Finally I settled on a high protein dry and wet food combination all my cats liked. I saw no change in Nino, he was the same big, happy lug he always has been, although he did seem a little more active.

Not long ago he had another abscess, and I took him to a friend’s vet, whom she recommended as sensible. I told the vet the story of the abscess/diet-nut intervention and he said, “Let’s see,” and put Nino on the scale and discovered that the cat had lost four pounds in about three years. No food restriction, just a higher protein food, and as much as he wanted whenever he wanted it.

Nino was born feral and when he’s done with his food, he paws over it as if to bury it and walks away. It’s not like he’s scarfing up all the other cats’ food and then eating the rug, although he might do that if I tried to starve him. The new vet said that the standard wisdom is that a cat with Nino’s long frame should weigh 18 pounds, but Nino seemed pretty healthy as he is, despite a small recurrence of the abscess.

I rather suspected that Nino was doing well. He’s now 12, and still catnip to the three female cats in residence. He does a distinctive, “Hello there, ladies” sort of meowing when he wants feminine companionship. I don’t know if he sounds like Roy Orbison, Barry White, or Luciano Pavarotti to them, but one or two of the females always come running over to twine themselves around him from head to tail, like furry vines. All of them seem to be enjoying life.

My point is that, while my first instinct would be to ignore any comment from a weight bigot, in this case the crap that the veterinarian offered gave me a reason to look at the food I was offering my cat and upgrade it to something that seems to be better for him.

By the way, I do not base my view that what I’m feeding him now is better on the fact that he lost four pounds. He would have had to lose 14 pounds, or half his current his weight to make the diet fanatic vet happy. My opinion that Nino feels better is based on the fact that he seems to be getting a little more exercise jumping up on the bed and chairs more often and rolling around with the lady cats. All this makes me happy.