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Tustin Parents Launch Petition After Surgery Refused For Deaf Baby

Nixon "Wildcard" Hunter
Nixon "Wildcard" Hunter has faced numerous health obstacles resulting from his premature birth, including jaundice, gastric tube surgery, and open heart surgery. (courtesy Hunter family)

TUSTIN ( — An Orange County couple has amassed thousands signatures in a campaign asking a health care insurer to cover a cochlear implant surgery for a 6-month-old baby with hearing loss.

Rich Hunter, of Tustin, started the campaign after being told by United Healthcare of California that a cochlear implant recommended by doctors for his son, Nixon, was an "elective surgery" and would not be covered under their policy.

Hunter said the news was the latest setback for the family after watching Nixon struggle with - and ultimately beat - numerous health obstacles resulting from his premature birth, including jaundice, gastric tube surgery, and open heart surgery.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, over 90 percent of commercial health plans in the U.S. cover cochlear implant surgery.

"The fact that United Healthcare is calling the ability to hear an elective surgery is just unbelievable to us," said Hunter. "We were shocked that after overcoming so many other health issues, Nixon is now being refused coverage for hearing loss and recovery. This should be available to all families who are paying for insurance."

In response to the decision from United Healthcare, the Hunters launched a petition on that has amassed over 38,200 signatures to date.

The family hopes the petition will result in an outcome similar to a drive started by Georgia couple Brian and Shay Rubin in March to get Coventry Healthcare of Georgia to cover their son's cochlear implant surgery.

That petition was ultimately successful in getting the procedure covered and the company to change their policy.

Supporters of Hunter's campaign, meanwhile, have flooded their petition page with personal comments about their own experiences with the life-changing surgery.

Tracy T. from Long Beach said, "My daughter has bilateral cochlear implants. Our insurance, Blue Shield, paid for them. Her surgeries were in 2008. She is in a regular kindergarten class and thriving. It's a shame a parent has to fight for this."

Chelsea S. of Stockton, CA wrote: "I am a Speech-Langauge Pathology student and I know the importance of getting a cochlear implant when deemed appropriate. This is SO critical for this child!"

Each signature on Hunter's petition sends an email to United Healthcare of California CEO Brandon Cuevas, according to Hunter.

Click here for live signature total updates from the Hunters' campaign.

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