Teen Dies After CIGNA Denies Liver Transplant
Nataline Sarkisyan needed a liver transplant. But the California teenager, 17, died last night at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center without ever receiving one. A match was found weeks ago, but her insurance carrier, CIGNA HealthCare, said the procedure was “too experimental.” Now, noted attorney Mark Garagos wants to file murder or manslaughter charges against CIGNA.
The case has sparked protests and drawn filmmaker and health activist Michael Moore’s attention as well. Moore wrote: “Justice Delayed…is Justice Denied.” Four UCLA doctors, including the head of the transplant division, sent the insurance company a letter on 11 December saying that Nataline needed the transplant and asking the insurance giant to review their claim denial. The doctors said that the procedure was neither unproven nor experimental; patients in similar circumstances have an approximately 65 percent survival rate, six months after transplantation. The only other option for the family was to pay for the operation out of pocket…with a $75,000 downpayment which they didn’t have. Hours before she died, CIGNA finally reversed its decision and said they’d pay. But by then, it was too late.
Geragos maintains that the Philadelpha-based insurance company “maliciously killed” Sarkisyan. He added: “I believe it’s criminal and I believe this corporation should be held accountable.” Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney, declined to comment until Geragos has submitted evidence supporting his claim. Nataline’s mother also blames CIGNA for her daughter’s death, saying: “She passed away, and the insurance [company] is responsible for this.”
Nataline, who developed leukemia when she was 14, received a bone marrow transplant from her brother, Bedros Sarkisyan, around Thanksgiving; however, complications caused her her liver to fail.
On Thursday, as about 150 nurses and teenagers protested at CIGNA’s Glendale, CA office, the company changed its mind and said it would pay for the transplant. While still maintaining its position that there was a lack of medical evidence demonstrating that the operation would work in this case, CIGNA wrote: “Our hearts go out to Nataline and her family, as they endure this terrible ordeal…CIGNA HealthCare has decided to make an exception in this rare and unusual case and we will provide coverage should she proceed with the requested liver transplant.” They had no comment after the teen’s death.
Charles Idelson of the CNA asked: “Why did it take public humiliation for a multibillion-dollar insurance company to force them to provide appropriate medical care?…This is what’s wrong with our health system — insurers decide treatment, not doctors.”
Merry Christmas, CIGNA; you just saved a bundle. Time was on your side. Profits were up 22 percent at the company in the third quarter this year, and they expect to earn $1.2 billion next year.
Read an excerpt from Dr. Linda Peeno’s chilling, and riveting, 1996 Capitol Hill testimony, Ethics from the Frontlines, which details how the American for-profit health care “industry” arrives at its decisions regarding patient’s health care. (Hint: She begins by saying, “I wish to begin by making a public confession: In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I caused the death of a man. Although this was known to many people, I have not been taken before any court of law or called to account for this in any professional or public forum. In fact, just the opposite occurred: I was ‘rewarded’ for this. It bought me an improved reputation in my job, and contributed to my advancement afterwards. Not only did I demonstrate I could indeed do what was expected of me, I exemplified the ‘good’ company doctor: I saved a half million dollars!”)
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Photo credits: AP / Matt Sayles
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