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Family’s Complaint Prompts Insurer To Drop ‘R-Word’


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A major health insurer has agreed to stop using the term “mental retardation” after a family complained when the phrase was used to describe their daughter’s condition.

Kraig and Jennipher Beahn were stunned when they received a letter from Cigna a few weeks back that included a reference to “mental retardation.” The correspondence was related to their 10-month-old daughter, Kennedi, who has Down syndrome.

“We had never heard the ‘r’ word spoken from any of our friends, acquaintances or medical professionals,” Kraig Beahn told WCTV.

The Tallahassee, Fla. parents sprung into action, writing and emailing the insurance provider to ask that the company use “intellectual disability” instead.

“When we initially received Cigna’s letter with such language, oriented towards our child … our hearts simply stopped beating,” the couple wrote.

Within days, Cigna not only apologized to the family, but committed to modify the terminology it uses companywide.

“We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do,” Cigna spokesman Mark Slitt said in an email to Disability Scoop. “The term ‘mental retardation’ is outdated and it’s also hurtful.”

Slitt said Cigna has already begun the process of revising its health plan documentation but indicated that the company will need to take some legal and regulatory steps in order to use the updated documents.

“This will take some time, but we’re committed to making the changes,” Slitt said.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. Cynthia Stephens says:

    You never know how much of a difference you can make until you take the initiative; I applaud the Beahn family in taking the time to let Cigna know the offensiveness of the word “r”. This small step but HUGE in reaction will start the ripple affect in changing the mindset of us all. Thank you, Beahn Family from another family with our “special” son, Jonathan!!!

  2. Karen Davis says:

    The adults with what we used to call “mental retardation” in my circle of friends also object to the term “intellectual disability”. They say it’s just a fancy name for MR. They prefer the term developmental disability, because it signals that they are not stuck in a place of deficit but can continue learning and developing over their lifespans. ID is a term professionals selected, not people with the disability themselves.

  3. Maria says:

    Their heart dropped? Really? You know when my heart drops? When I read “services denied not medically necessary” I can’t believe that anyone would really want to be in the business of downplaying disability. If we continue to try to convince people that disability is not a big deal, that mental retardation is an insult and not a disabling condition what we will accomplish is leaving out kids behind with all their “dignity” and no funding!!! No services!!!! No SS benefits!!! What is wrong with this community? When have you read a similar post from the parent of a child with autism saying they used the A word , or a could with cancer saying my kid is just like any other kid!
    My son has Angelman syndrome, he is most certainly intellectually disabled and I spend every penny I make and every waking hour making sure he gets the services and support he needs because he’s disabled! I don’t know who you think you’re helping but it’s not kids like my son.
    Call me when a complain makes the insurance company pay for stuff they deny for no reason.

  4. Harry says:

    Although I champian anyone who stands out from the croud for what they believe in, my experience tells me that words and their meanings in this field are on the periferal, often talked about but rairly making any real difference to peoples lives, what realy needs to change is the attittudes of organisations, goverments and the public. Services driven by users and not organisations dictating what services they are willing to provide. I am not sure that changing the words we use changes peoples lives within their life time. Its time to tackle the real issues not the ones that goverments and large organisations find easy to promote. In 22 years of delivering accomodation supports we are still deivering the same service driven outcomes to people in need of support. Champion the exceptional sevices, boldly, brashly & for all to see what can be achieved when we get past talking about the words we use, it’s a distraction. The Beahn family should be congradulated for their part in promoting change

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