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CIGNA Decides to Commit Murder by Spreadsheet — “Day of Rage” Organized

December 20th, 2007 · 3 Comments · Activism, Blogs, Healthcare Crisis, Human Rights, News, Politics


See update #3 at the bottom of this post: after an emotional roller coaster of a day, Nataline Sarkisyan has passed away.

The fine, caring folks at CIGNA health insurance have made the warm-hearted decision to let a 17-year-old girl die because they don’t want to pay for a liver transplant. And they’re trying to justify this callousness by using that old-favorite insurance company dodge of claiming that liver transplants are “experimental.” (Tell that to all the folks whose lives have been saved by that radical operation.)

Nataline Sarkisyan, 17, of Northridge is in the intensive care unit at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, and her mother says she has been in a vegetative state for three weeks.

Nataline will die without the transplant, said her mother, Hilda Sarkisyan.

Nataline was diagnosed with leukemia at age 14, and after two years of treatment the cancer went into remission, Hilda said. But this summer it came back.

When doctors said Nataline could use a bone-marrow transplant, the Sarkisyans discovered that her only sibling, Bedig, 21, was a match, and he donated his bone marrow the day before Thanksgiving.

But Nataline developed a complication from the bone-marrow transplant and, because her liver was failing, doctors recommended a transplant, according to an appeal letter sent to CIGNA earlier this month.

But doctors said in the letter that CIGNA denied the transplant, saying Nataline’s plan does not cover “experimental, investigational and unproven services.”

Meanwhile, it’s not like CIGNA would have to count the pennies in their coin jars to pay for the operation:

Cigna profits increase 22% in 3Q

Cigna Corp. Friday released earnings guidance for 2008 and said that its third-quarter 2007 earnings were up 22 percent.

Cigna said a 5 percent increase in members for the first nine months of the year and an increase in Medicare Part D premiums helped push profits higher.

For 2008, the Philadelphia-based health insurer anticipates consolidated adjusted income from operations to range from $1.15 billion, or $4 per share, to $1.21 billion, or $4.20 per share. This year’s consolidated adjusted income from operations should range from $1.1 billion, or $3.80 per share, to $1.16 billion, or $4 per share, the company (NYSE:CI) said.

So yeah, I’m thinking they could swing it.

As NYCEve wrote in the diary where she introduced the term “murder by spreadsheet”:

… the murderous for-profit insurance industry is the darling of Wall Street primarily because of their consistently favorable medical loss ratios. That’s Wall Street speak for improving profits by reducing payments for health care services. With lower medical loss ratios, investors gain while patients and doctors lose.

This is Murder by Spreadsheet.

So. Nataline’s life is hanging by a thread at this point, and the questions is, what can we do about it?

For starters, the heroic nurses at the California Nurses Association have organized a protest today at CIGNA’s offices:

Shum Preston, spokesman for the California Nurses Association, said several dozen people are expected to protest today at the CIGNA offices – including nurses, Nataline’s family and members of the Armenian-American community.

Meanwhile, over at Daily Kos, NYCEve is proposing some nationwide action:

I’d like to ask a favor from those of you who read this.

Could you help turn today into a day of rage?

Could you let CIGNA know we are strong, organized, outraged and will fight them at every bend in the road?

Will you spend a moment calling this scum MURDER BY SPREADSHEET for-profit insurer and demand that they approve the liver transplant. Please.


Would you call Cigna and tell them that this young woman needs a liver transplant or She. Will. Die.

Wouldn’t it be great if these companies had to deal with massive public protests and bad publicity every time they make the decision to let someone die? Pickets, sit-ins, news cameras?

I wonder how they’d factor that cost into their spreadsheets.

So … If you’re somewhere where you can make a phone call today, why not take the opportunity to confront CIGNA and ask them point blank how they sleep at night?

Actually, you’ll probably only get voicemail, but the folks at the California Nurses Association say that CIGNA will be counting every call and feeling the heat.

There’s much more information in NYCEve’s diary post, both in the main body itself and the comments section. And of course, at the California Nurses site.

An important point from the CNA’s press release:

CIGNA’s refusal of Nataline’s liver transplant—overruling the urgent appeals of an array of doctors and nurses—is indicative of the failures of the new healthcare plan sponsored by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fabian Nunez. That plan, which is actively supported by CIGNA, requires every single Californian to purchase insurance products from companies like CIGNA, but does not address the problem of denial of care evident in this situation.

It’s not enough just to make sure everyone has health insurance, if we can’t compel the insurance companies to actually provide the coverage people pay them for.

UPDATE #2: Victory! Shum from California Nurses posted the following at DKos:


Sorry for jumping in line…

But CIGNA just called the family AND APPROVED THE LIVER TRANSPLANT. WE WON!!!!!! I am ready to start crying now.

I know that the Sarkysian family sends their hearts and love to everyone who called CIGNA this morning. They have come so far, and your support means so much. They are going to write you directly later on, but for now, as part of their patient revolt, they are continuing their action, with 150 friends, family, nurses, healthcare activists, and members of the Armenian community gathered in front of their headquarters in Glendale.

CIGNA had to go into crisis PR mode, and stop answering phones around the country…and no way for the press to get in touch with them.

We HAVE power. We can never forget that. We can do this again for other patients–and we can fix this torture masquerading as a healthcare system.

UPDATE #3: Horrible news — no happy ending after all. Nataline has died. ABC News hasn’t figured out how to spell her name yet, but here’s the story:

During the protest, Natalee’s mother got word CIGNA had changed its mind and would make an exception for Natalee’s surgery.

But the decision came too late for Natalee. Just after six o’clock tonight, her condition worsened.

Natalee’s family took her off life support and she passed away.

Attorneys for the Sarkisian family may pursue legal action against CIGNA HealthCare.

The kicker? A liver was available six days ago, when Nataline was in much better condition, but CIGNA’s refusal to authorize the surgery prevented it from happening.

On Dec. 14, Hilda Sarkisyan was told by the hospital that a healthy liver was available, but because CIGNA had refused authorization, the family would have had to make an immediate down payment of $75,000 to proceed, an amount the family could not afford.

It seems very likely that those six days Nataline was forced to wait took away her chance to survive.

Tonight, CIGNA has blood on its hands. And as the commenters over at DKos are making clear, this story is not going to go away.


3 Comments so far ↓

  • jim s.

    so where were all the ‘pro-life’ forces on this one? the people who raised hell over that schiavo woman, where were they? it’s great that this kid now will get the operation she needs, but can you imagine how many other people there must be who don’t even know what’s wrong with them because they can’t afford to go to the doctor, can’t afford to take a day off work to sit in a doctor’s office or emergency room? what a messed up country. But thank god we’ve got people like mick huckabee running for prez – people like his ‘values.’

  • jim s.

    sons of bitches. i can only hope that the family successfully sues the non-insurnace company for tens of millions and hopefully this will piss enough people off that the cries ‘evil socialized healthcare’ just won’t cut it anymore.

  • Justin Ash

    I’ve been deathly afraid ever since I heard this story. (I’m on CIGNA, by the way.) I was diagnosed last year with Crohn’s disease; living with a permanent disease makes your future uncomfortably uncertain. Am I going to have insurance when I have to get my inevitable operation?; will insurance even pay for what I need?

    Even then, I’m lucky even to have insurance at this time. Its disgusting how the millions who don’t have it are entirely ignored.