Big baby gets health insurance; Local family sharing story with national media

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - A local family is relieved their perfectly healthy baby boy has health insurance, just days after he was denied coverage for being too big. Now they're taking their story nationwide in hopes that it will have a positive impact on the health care debate.

You may know Bernie Lange as the anchor of "11 Today", but Monday afternoon, he and his wife Kelli were on the other side of the news, talking about how the health care crisis has affected them.

At four months, their son Alex already weighs 17 pounds, putting him in the 99th percentile for infants his age according to CDC guidelines. When they called Rocky Mountain Health Plans last week, the company told them it only covered people up to the 95th percentile and Alex was too big to receive insurance. Now just days later, they're singing a different tune.

"He said that Rocky Mountain Health Plans could go ahead and change the policy not just for us, but the policy in general," says Lange.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans CEO Steve Erkenbrack says this issue came to his attention after 11 News and subsequent media outlets reported the story. In reviewing the company's policies, he determined the 95th percentile cutoff was appropriate for adults who may be overweight, but not appropriate for someone like Alex.

"When you're talking about a four month old who's breast feeding, it just doesn't make any sense to apply those general population criteria to this," says Erkenbrack.

Now, he says Rocky Mountain Health Plans will no longer use that weight criteria to determine if babies get coverage.

"The right thing to do is to find a way to cover the baby and that's what we did," he says.

The Langes say they're relieved their son has coverage, but are now more worried than ever about the state of our nation's health care system. "It's kind of bittersweet because we know there's millions of other people without coverage," says Lange.

Now, both they and Erkenbrack are taking to the national airwaves, hoping their story show just how important some kind of reform is. "It needs to be addressed," says Kelli. "A four month old not having insurance is just a very small particle in this big, huge world."

And they've shown what can happen when two sides come together to make the system work. "If we can do this this fast, why can't it be done in Washington?" Kelli asks.

"When you approach a problem like we have and the Langes have, saying here's the problem, here's the situation, how do we fix this, finding a way to fix it without getting all emotional about it," says Erkenbrack. "Frankly, maybe Washington could take a page out of the book of Grand Junction."

Baby Alex appeared on NBC Nightly News, "The Ed Show" on MSNBC, and several local stations across Colorado and the country Monday night. Tuesday morning, the Langes will be featured on NBC's "The Today Show" and NPR.
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** KKCO would like to disclose that the subject in this story is the son of one of our employees. Bernie Lange, Alex's father, is a part time employee of KKCO, outside his time at KKCO he is self-employed.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Cindy Location: Grand Junction on Oct 15, 2009 at 09:43 AM
    I am thankful Bernie works for NBC and was able to get the word out quickly. Honestly, I don't think RMHP would have changed their policies without the threat of the media. Health insurance should have never been a "for profit" entity. "We're sorry, your baby's life isn't valuable enough to cover. He's going to have a negative impact on our profits." It just goes to show how badly healthcare needs reformed. Or shall I say, OVERHAULED????
  • by Anonymous Location: Grand Junction on Oct 13, 2009 at 07:02 AM
    I feel a big deal was made of the situation because of where Bernie works. Rocky Mtn just showed what a compassionate company they are by reviewing their policy - one that they did NOT change because of the media hype, but because of the fact they realized the underwriting for infants was not correct. If people think this will have a positive impact on healthcare nation wide - dream on. The big insurance companies will not do what Rocky did. People get mad at insurance companies for all kinds of reasons - but people also need to use their heads - being over weight does bring on other health issues, thus more trips to the doctor/hospital. The baby probably will lose his baby fat and be in the normal percentile - but that doesn't mean that Rocky should of had this negative media put on them - no I don't work for Rocky. News must be slow at KKCO
  • by Anne Location: Greenwood Village on Oct 13, 2009 at 12:27 AM
    As a baby, my solely breastfed daughter was often called "Buddah baby". She had a triple chin and was fat as a baby could be. As soon as solid food was introduced, she slimmed down and has grown into a beautiful, competant and healthy young woman who is 5'6" tall and wieghs 122 lbs. Quite a story for an insurance company who never shirked at taking her on as a 5 month old weighing 18.2 lbs. (I just checked the baby book!)
  • by Local Location: Grand Junction, Co. on Oct 12, 2009 at 10:11 PM
    All of the folks posting from another state need to know something. The Obama has visited our little town twice. Our health care system was touted as a model for the new reform. Is this really what you want?
  • by Anonymous Location: Seattle, wa on Oct 12, 2009 at 10:02 PM
    I think reguardless of wether his father worked for the company or not this is a story to cover. I am tired of hearing about babies this young being over weight or "fat". It is a FOUR MONTH old. He cannot control how much he weighs and at that age, neother can his parents. Babies eat when they are hungry. And I think if a parent is willing to pay for health coverage, in a situation like this, the insurance company shoul dby no means deny that child. I could understand if he was a couple years older and it was because the parents taught him bad eating habits and then he became obese, but this is a 4 month old baby. I hope this gets coverage everywhere and I hope the insurance company pulls their heads out of their butts.
  • by Lin Location: Milwaukee on Oct 12, 2009 at 09:49 PM
    Your story sent me running back to the baby book. My son was 18# at four months. And Kix, I was not overfeeding. He had only breast milk for the first six months. 20 years later he is 6'4", eats like a horse, and weighs 170--almost skinny enough to be refused insurance for being UNDERweight. (Lucky for me he is in college in Europe and paying a very reasonable premium for excellent care--including house calls--under a socialized health care system.)He's never had any health problems. The main problem I had with my XXL baby was getting people to remember he was just a little ;-)infant and needed the same gentle handling every infant requires. I am HAPPY that your local media covered this story. Disgruntled listeners, if it were not newsworthy, then why was it picked up by all the national media? Parents--enjoy your beautiful, happy, healthy baby!
  • by LaVena Location: Montana on Oct 12, 2009 at 09:10 PM
    I think this very much applies to everyone. Considering the insurance issues at hand and the government wanting to change things..here is a perfect example of why we need change in what insurance companies can do. We dont' need government run health care, we just need laws so that these people can't deny for such things. You would think it was improtant if it were your child being denyed. It is NOT just a family matter...this happens too often and the insurance companies need to be stopped. No child deserves to go with out care, for any reason. A four month old certianly does not have control over his weight! Do people use their heads anymore?
  • by Cynde on Oct 12, 2009 at 06:02 PM
    You pick and choose which comments you put out half the time,so lets see if this one makes it?. It seems as though this was a situation in which the parents should of taken care of in a more adult manner instead of shouting it out. Some thrive off of the publicity I guess. You know that famous moment. Im sure there are more important topics to discuss other than this.This matter affects this family at this point and should be confined in there home.Not made major everyday discussion on kkco.
  • by Katie Location: Buffalo NY on Oct 12, 2009 at 05:40 PM
    My son who is now 1 yrs old was 20 lbs at 4 mos. old and was thriving and super healthy... he was just solid. He thinned out when he started crawling and walking. He's still in the 90th percentile for height and weight but he is by no means fat at all. His weight stayed in the low twenties until about a month ago and he is now 26 lbs.
  • by Kix Location: OKC on Oct 12, 2009 at 04:50 PM
    Another sob story to push nationalized health care? It's good that you used the national media to pressure the insurance company into reconsidering their coverage for your baby, but if you really wanted to report the whole news you would have reported the truth about how the nationalized health insurance being pushed right now would handle such a case. This is where they would refer the parents and their chunky baby to the local department of child welfare to insure that the baby is being fed and cared for properly; meaning the parents would already have a CPS report on file against them. And if it was found that they were over feeding, well.. that would be a whole new set of issues and quite possibly charges filed against the parents. But hey.. nothing wrong with giving up a little (freedom) to get a little (free stuff), right?
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