This morning, as I awoke to another sunrise in Los Angeles and another story about Jamie Lynn Spears still being pregnant, I also awoke to another reality: that I am the living result of an "experiment". At least, that's what the CIGNA insurance company thinks. The "experiment" line was the rationale that they took to deny a Los Angeles family coverage of the liver transplant that their daughter, 17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, needed to save her life. Nataline was a leukemia patient who underwent a bone-marrow transplant from her brother, but a complication led to a lung infection and, eventually, liver failure. But CIGNA denied the Sarkisyans' request for coverage for the procedure, saying that the operation was, yeah, experimental.
As Nataline lay in a medically induced coma at UCLA Medical Center, a large rally in front of CIGNA's L.A. headquarters was staged yesterday to convince the behemoth to reverse their decision - and, miracle of miracle, it works. The family got word at the rally that CIGNA would cover the surgery after all, though even then they couched their words as if they were doing the Sarkisyans a favor - the favor the clan had paid for with premiums, by the way. But only hours after that, Nataline took a turn for the worse and died before she could go under the knife.
In their statement approving the transplant, CIGNA said that their "hearts go out to Nataline and her family as they endure this terrible ordeal". Now that she's dead, CIGNA isn't saying anything so far - probably in anticipation of the inevitable lawsuit - so no word on where their hearts are now. We know where their livers aren't.
Look, there are differences between my situation and Nataline's. I didn't have cancer, for one. But I was on death's door - hell, death was knocking hard and using a chainsaw to cut the door open. At the time I was double-covered by my parents' dual insurance policies, and still the bill was as long as a Russian novel. They fought us over paying for a medical jet that would transport me to Omaha for the transplant, claiming that they could just load my comatose ass onto a commercial flight. And that was almost 20 years ago. Who knew how long the "experiment" would last - or what hoops we would have to go through if I had the transplant today - or, God forbid, need another one someday?
This is not a political blog for the most part. But if you ever needed any proof that the health-care system in this country is irretrievably broken, just look at the corpse of Nataline Sarkisyan. Seventeen years old. Dead because of a corporate decision. Several candidates on both sides tell us that it's our responsibility to be insured in order to fix the problem. But if the insurance company doesn't do its job, then why bother?
UPDATE: Here is the Los Angeles Times' take on the situation.
UPDATE 2: The Sarkisyans have hired a big-time lawyer and may be going after more than a lawsuit. Murder and/or manslaughter charges may be filed. A message is about to be sent, and how.