Lucas Warren, an 18-month-old with Down syndrome from Dalton, Georgia, is baby food brand Gerber’s newest “spokesbaby.” On Wednesday, Gerber announced Warren had won its signature photo contest. While some people praise Gerber for inclusivity and the positive strides towards awareness and acceptance, many parents of children with Down syndrome feel this was purely a marketing move — because they claim Gerber has a history of denying its life insurance to children with Down syndrome.
— Sarah Blunkosky (@LearningHeroine) February 7, 2018
Although I think it is amazing that the new @GerberLife baby has Down syndrome, the same company denies life insurance solely on the fact they have that diagnosis. My daughter, who is 8 and has Down syndrome was denied, & she has no other health conditions. #gerberbaby #Ds #t21 https://t.co/akAAHsTS85
— Shauna Graham (@shaunamgraham) February 7, 2018
— JM Gerhart-Rothholz (@jmgerhart) February 7, 2018
@GerberLife so awesome to see a baby with Down syndrome as the new Gerber Baby. It would now be awesome to see Gerber Life provide life insurance to babies with Ds. When Shane and Wyatt were born they were denied life insurance because they were born with Down syndrome
— Eric Waksmunski (@Ericwaxy) February 7, 2018
In 1967, Gerber created the Gerber Life Insurance Company as a subsidiary of the Gerber Products Company. Today, it is a financially separate affiliate of Gerber Products. Its website reads: “Like the Gerber baby food company that’s been trusted by parents for nearly a century, Gerber Life shares the commitment of helping parents provide for their families.”
Currently, Gerber Life has no information on its website stating reasons why a child would be denied life insurance. While some insurance companies do make it clear that certain pre-existing conditions would disqualify applicants, this information is not made readily available on Gerber Life’s website or included in its frequently asked questions page.
Though most insurance companies would claim they would not deny a child based solely on a Down syndrome diagnosis, it’s common for kids with Down syndrome to be denied. One Stop Life Insurance, a resource for people searching for coverage, explains:
Many life insurance carriers will deny an application for a child with Down syndrome. The reason being is that there are many uncertainties. Unfortunately, there might be heart problems or other health complications due to the [condition]. Life insurance companies don’t like the unpredictable and most likely will reject an application for a child diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Melissa Kline Skavlem wanted to purchase life insurance for her kids through Gerber Life. Skavlem told The Mighty she called them to enroll her child with Down syndrome and was told over the phone they would not insure due to a Down syndrome diagnosis.
Renee Garcia, another parent, told The Mighty:
I called Gerber in 2004 to enroll [my daughter] not long after she was born because my older two kids both have Gerber plans. When they found out she had Down syndrome, they asked more questions, she had no other health issues. So they told me to try again when she turned 5 and they might cover her. I called back in 2009, but when I mentioned she battled leukemia in 2007 it was an automatic denial, no questions asked. I never reached out to another company after that, figuring she would be denied from everyone.
It is possible, though, for children with Down syndrome to be covered without issue. Kristen Faulkner, another mother of a child with Down syndrome, told The Mighty she had no problem getting her child insured through her private life insurance policy. “It was automatic coverage that was included in my plan. I didn’t even have to add [my children] for an additional fee — they automatically have the same coverage,” she said. “I remember reading of all of these denials due to Down syndrome years ago, and I called Allstate (insurance company) to verify that [my son] was covered and they said yes.”
Meanwhile, Beth Sullivan, parent of a child with Down syndrome and Immediate Past President of the International Down Syndrome Coalition, told The Mighty:
We were told that [our son] was being denied the Gerber life insurance plan because he has Down syndrome. We explained that he did not have any health issues. He was as healthy as any child his age. But we were repeatedly told that he could not be insured due to having Down syndrome. We did just get life insurance for him this year through my husband’s work.
Sullivan affirmed selecting Lucas as the Gerber baby was definitely a small move in the right direction and expressed her support on their selection. However, she sees a disconnect and wonders if companies such as this are aware of the dichotomy. If they are not, she wishes to politely and professionally bring it to their attention. “It’s easy to make an adorable child a spokesperson,” she said. “It’s more difficult to make substantive changes.”
Parents continue to flood social media, stating their children were denied coverage because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.
A parent of a child with Down syndrome wrote on Facebook:
So, is Gerber’s recent announcement of the 2018 Gerber Baby being the first Gerber Baby with Down Syndrome indicative that you will be changing your long-standing policy of denying Gerber Life coverage to children with Down Syndrome, or is this just a really disgusting publicity stunt? I need to know so I can decide whether to try to get my daughter a policy and praise you as pioneers, or to boycott your products over reprehensible marketing tactics.
In an email obtained by The Mighty (sent to several Down syndrome nonprofits which asked not to be named), a Gerber spokesperson wrote:
We appreciate your concerns. The Gerber Life team issues policies per each child’s unique situation. This includes issuing some policies that cover children with Down syndrome. We cannot speak about individual policy decisions but you can check with Gerber Life at 1-866-217-4828 or online at https://www.gerberlife.com/customer-service/contact-gerber-life. For now, please join us sending love and positivity to Lucas as we welcome him into our family.
The Mighty reached out to Gerber for a statement and has yet to hear back.
Image via Instagram