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Almost five years ago, young Nataline Sarkisyan, a child fashion designer from California with a bright future ahead of her, died when mega-profit insurance company Cigna refused to pay her doctors for the transplant that could have saved her young life.

Today, as the Daily News out of Los Angeles reports, her parents still weep:

They weep still for their blue-eyed Nataline.

Their tears flow for what they remember: Their daughter in her room, the pink walls decorated with posters of the Jonas Brothers. They see her there sketching in a notebook the dresses and blouses and jackets she would one day like to design.

Nataline Sarkisyan died in a UCLA hospital bed on Dec. 20, 2007. She was 17. Her story drew nationwide attention because the liver transplant she needed was denied by her family's health insurer, CIGNA.

With their beautiful daughter gone, however, their determination to fight for the rights of American patients remains strong:
For Hilda and Krikor Sarkisyan, who live in Porter Ranch, anguish remains for the daughter who never came back to her pink room. But so too does their determination to keep Nataline's story alive, to save others.

The family established the Nataline Sarkisyan Foundation, and since then has organized an annual fashion show to raise scholarship funds for students interested in the arts and medicine. The fifth annual show is scheduled for this weekend in Calabasas.

They also continue to implore lawmakers to change a federal law that prevented them - and will stop other families - from suing CIGNA and other health insurance carriers for refusing to pay for treatment.

Nataline's parents are targeting a federal law, ERISA, that mega-profit insurance companies, like Cigna, use to protect themselves from lawsuits when they murder through denial:
Hilda Sarkisyan said her life's goal is to repeal a provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 that protects insurance companies from being sued for lack of coverage.

Flanked by power attorney Mark Geragos, the Sarkisyans tried to sue CIGNA shortly after Nataline's death. But with ERISA in place, they were unable to touch the insurance provider.

The provision is so tightly ingrained into the way health insurance works that even President Barack Obama's extensive health care reform bill couldn't touch it, said Wendell Potter, the former vice president of corporate communications at CIGNA, who resigned from the company in 2008 and later testified against it as a whistle-blower.

Potter even came to the Sarkisyans' home, and on national television, apologized to the family.

"The Sarkisyans' case highlighted a broken system that exists and continues to exist," Potter said.

Of course, the disgusting human beings at Cigna gambling on premium dollars -- and thus profiting from the chance for human suffering and sickness -- refused to comment on Nataline's death.
CIGNA this month did not respond to a request for comment on Nataline's case, saying the company does not respond during pending litigation. Hilda Sarkisyan has filed a complaint against CIGNA, not directly based on her daughter's death because that would be precluded by ERISA, but stemming from an incident in 2009 in which she alleges mistreatment by a company employee.
Let's keep Nataline's story alive by reminding @Cigna via Twitter that we will not stop until their corporation is denied the right to abuse patients in the United States, replaced by Medicare for all.

You might also want to post on Cigna's revolting 'Go You' Facebook page, where this evil corporation attempts to sugarcoat their immoral and unethical business.

No, Cigna, it's not Go You!, it's Go Nataline!

Shame on you, Cigna! Shame, shame, shame.

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Comment Preferences

  •  TV ads are expensive! (7+ / 0-)

    The Cigna ads are very, very good and moderately common on television. They have interesting special effects and come from something quite high concept. The New York Times had a nice article on how these companies were trying to be loved.

    In 2010, health insurance companies spent $668,000,000 on advertising. They don't understand why they are the most hated companies in the country, either. Hence, lots and lots and lots of how they make barbeques in your 60's possible.

    Where did they get the money?

    How come they can worry so much about their image?

    How can they do that and increase their executive pay? Oh, right: denying coverage and increasing premiums. (A person getting a cortisone injection for arthritis had Cigna call it surgery. The needle broke the skin! That makes it invasive!)

    Every reductio ad absurdum will seem like a good idea to some fool or another.

    by The Geogre on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 05:32:06 AM PDT

  •  That Law's Not a Constitutional Amendment Is It? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    james321, OldDragon

    How could a later law not supercede an earlier law? Or is it a matter of practical congressional politics. THAT I can understand.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 06:46:21 AM PDT

  •  Your confusion is understandable (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The article you linked to doesn't explain ERISA, and many people don't understand who is actually providing their insurance.  This case is useful as a teaching moment.

    1.  Cigna would only have blood on its hands if a donor liver were available AND the donor liver were not suitable for another patient with a better chance of survival.  Human organs are scarce.

    2.  ERISA applies only to companies that self-insure.  Cigna was not the insurer, it was the claims administrator.  The Sarkisyans' employer (who I think was UCLA) was the insurer.  It would be more correct to say that UCLA denied the coverage.  About half of all employers who provide insurance actually self-insure and hire a traditional insurer to manage their claims.  People often don't realize this because the insurance card they get has the name of the claims administrator on it.

    3.  Under the British National Health Service, it's also unlikely that the transplant would have gone forward.  The NHS is very cost-conscious and often does not pay for operations with a low probability of success.

    4.  You might also wonder why the physicians at UCLA hospital were unwilling to do the surgery before they secured payment.

    You could have a national system and points 1 and 3 would still apply--an organ that one person gets is often an organ that another person doesn't, and sometimes in a national system the administrators will decide the money is better spent elsewhere.  

  •  Look at the facts as reported at the time, please (0+ / 0-)

    before you dismiss the likelihood that a real health care system could have saved this young woman's life.

    1. Nataline Sarkisian suffered from recurrent leukemia. Her insurance's administration came from CIGNA.

    2. CIGNA originally approved payment for care but then delayed and later denied payment for needed care. Despite a bone marrow transplant with a familial (her brother) donor, she developed complications, slipped into a coma, her liver failed, and she died.

    3. Her UCLA doctors rated her chances of survival at better than 50%.

    The 17-year-old from Glendale, California, had been in a coma for weeks after complications following a bone marrow transplant to counter leukaemia.

    After the operation, her liver failed and doctors referred her for an emergency transplant. Although she was fully insured and had a matching donor, Cigna refused to pay on the grounds that her healthcare plan "does not cover experimental, investigational and unproven services".

    Cigna's rejection on December 11 led Sarkisyan's doctors at UCLA medical centre, including the head of its transplant unit, to write a letter to protest that the treatment which they proposed was neither experimental nor unproven.

    4. After CIGNA dithered,  doctors from other medical centers wrote to urge the insurer to reconsider.
    Doctors treating Nataline told the family and Cigna in a letter that patients in similar situations have a 65% chance of living six months if they receive a liver transplant. Doctors had qualified Nataline for a transplant Dec. 6 and a liver became available four days later, the family said. But the transplant was not performed because Cigna had refused to approve and pay for the procedure, they said.

    Cigna turned down the transplant, calling the procedure experimental because it was not supported by enough medical literature as safe or effective in such cases.

    5. Doctors from other hospitals, including one in Texas, the Baylor Regional Transplant Center, denied that the procedure is experimental or ineffective in cases like this one. From the LA Times article previously cited:
    Dr. Goran Klintmalm, chief of the Baylor Regional Transplant Institute in Dallas, said the operation that UCLA wanted to perform was a "very high-risk transplant" and "generally speaking, it is on the margins."

    But Klintmalm said he would consider performing the same operation on a 17-year-old and believes the UCLA doctors are among the best in the world.

    "The UCLA team is not a cowboy team," he said. "It's a team where they have some of the soundest minds in the industry who deliver judgment on appropriateness virtually every day."

    The problem here is that we are not seeing medicine practiced by doctors. We are seeing medical practice interrupted, delayed, or denied by accountants.
    In the words of Dr. Chen:
    Nataline’s case was not all that different from the more than 200 liver patients I had seen successfully transplanted every year at that institution. She was critically ill, as close to death as one could possibly be while technically still alive, and her fate was inextricably linked to another’s. Somewhere, someone with a compatible organ had to die in time for Nataline to live.

    But even when the perfect liver became available a few days after she was put on the list, doctors could not operate. What made Nataline different from most transplant patients, and what eventually brought her case to the attention of much of the country, was that her survival did not depend on the availability of an organ or her clinicians or even the quality of care she received. It rested on her health insurance company.

    Cigna had denied the initial request to cover the costs of the liver transplant. And the insurer persisted in its refusal, claiming that the treatment was “experimental” and unproven, and despite numerous pleas from Nataline’s physicians to the contrary.

    Prosecutions for practicing medicine without a license, negligent harm and negligent homicide are the least of the legal actions we should be seeing.

    LBJ & Lady Bird, Sully Sullenberger, Molly Ivins, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Drew Brees: Texas is No Bush League! -7.50,-5.59

    by BlackSheep1 on Wed Jul 11, 2012 at 11:26:09 AM PDT

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