Oct 26, 2009
As 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan lay dying of leukemia at the UCLA Medical Center, the insurance company, Cigna, denied her the one thing her doctors said would save her life, a liver transplant. Sarkisyan’s family and friends, along with supporters from the California Nurses Association, marched in protest on the company headquarters in Glendale, California.
Facing bad publicity, Cigna reversed itself and agreed to authorize the liver transplant. But it was too late. That night, December 20, 2007, Nataline Sarkisyan died.
Ten months later, the Sarkisyan family suffered a second reversal, when a Los Angeles judge threw out their wrongful death suit against Cigna, saying that a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling shields employer-paid plans from damages when their actions harm someone, or even cost them their lives. This ruling affects 132 million people who get insurance through their employers.
As Wendell Potter, a Cigna spokesman who quit in disgust after handling the publicity surrounding the Sarkisyan case, explained, “HMOs and insurers are largely free to deny access to care without fear of reprisal or financial consequences.”
The major healthcare bills winding their way through Congress do not change this, leaving a huge loophole for the insurance companies to exploit. So even though the so-called reforms mandate the insurance companies to cover everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, the insurance companies will still be free to deny care to whomever they want. And the patients will still not have the legal right to challenge these denials, even in life and death cases.
Insurance companies, in their drive to maximize profit, murder thousands of people every year by denying them vital care, while the government and the courts aid and abet them.