Nataline Sarkisyan Dies After CIGNA Denies Liver Transplant

Because of my friend Bethani Roam’s recent struggle with liver failure, a subsequent liver transplant, and then an on-going battle with the threat of rejection, the story of Nataline Sarkisyan is one I find touching. It has raised distinct and unavoidable questions this evening.

It is a heart-breaking story. Nataline died last night at UCLA Medical center, the result of leukemia and subsequent liver failure…and some would say, the result of her health insurance company refusing to approve a liver transplant. On December 11, her doctors contacted CIGNA for authorization, which the company refused to issue. On Thursday, around 150 people, including her family and nurses protested outside CIGNA’s offices in Glendale, CA. The uproar prompted CIGNA to reverse its decision, and during the protest, a messenger came with the word of the insurer’s change of mind.

The victory cheers were short-lived. Within hours, Nataline died. The authorization for the liver transplant had come too late.

Now according to the Associated Press:

Attorney Mark Geragos said he plans to ask the district attorney to press murder or manslaughter charges against Cigna HealthCare in the case. The insurer “maliciously killed her” because it did not want to bear the expense of her transplant and aftercare, Geragos said.

Is something wrong with our medical situation here in America? Should insurance companies have more say over the treatment of a patient than does the doctor? This does not seem right to me, and I grieve for this family. At the same time, I don’t perceive CIGNA as an evil entity, with no heart, and set on merely accumulating money. Perhaps I am naive.

Do you have thoughts about medical care in America? I believe it to be the best in the world, but when I hear of cases such as these, it brings me up short, and I must pause to consider their ramifications. For it could be me…could be my child…or another of my loved ones. What is the solution?

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My devotional blog is here.

14 thoughts on “Nataline Sarkisyan Dies After CIGNA Denies Liver Transplant

  1. Hello, Colleen:

    Welcome to my blog. Hope you are able to come here often.

    Although I don’t know you, I believe your story, and am very sorry to hear of this devastating situation. You sound like a survivor to me, though, and I believe that despite your terrible injuries and your longsuffering with Cigna, you will make something of your life. I do wish that for you.

    May God bless you and give you strength. Everything that is done in this earth will be rewarded one way or the other in another life. For some it will be a happy day, for others a sad one. I want happy for you…we’ll leave the people of Cigna in the hands of God.

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  2. Colleen Higgins

    Yes, I do believe that CIGNA is a mega-money corporation that makes money hand-over-fist by collecting insurance premiums and then doing everything it can to make up rationales and then hide in its bunker to deny medical treatment to those who pay these premiums.
    At barely 19 yrs old, I was struck by a speeding pick up truck, was horribly injured and left crippled for life. Within 5 years, CIGNA just stopped paying my medical bills. I spent months trying to get answers from CIGNA but only got obsfucation.
    I finally had to engage a lawyer who found that CIGNA decided to cut off all coverage of my treatment, citing a technicality.
    My lawyer sued CIGNA and got a Decision from the Superior Court of NJ which reprimanded CIGNA for its ploy and instructed that it should understand itself to be liable for my medical treatment related to the accident for my lifetime.
    CIGNA paid treatment for another ten years but, at the time that my orthopedist determined that I should wait no longer for a knee transplant, CIGNA decided it would pay no more. I tried for over 2 years to get to someone at CIGNA who would understand that CIGNA must follow the Decision of the Superior Court.
    CIGNA, aware that I did not have the funds, practically dared me to get a lawyer.
    Thus, Justice translates to: “How much justice can you afford.” Due to my injuries and ongoing medical problems, I never made much money. It took me yrs to find a lawyer to take the case on contingency – but he still demands expenses, which could rund into the tens of thousands, up front each month.
    This is standard CIGNA (& most ins. co.) strategy – deny treatment, playing the odds that most people can’t come up with enough money to take you to Court, no matter how right they are. You can be assured that for every Nataline, there are hundreds of Colleens like me.

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  3. Susan Chr

    Linda,
    Someone has to stand up to bodies like CIGNA — if nothing else than to do the Lord’s Work and remind doctors of their professional oath to save a life above all else (also helps to remind us that CIGNA is an insurance company, not just a great investment for stock pickers, and that as Americans we have the right/obligation to say things like this ). Praise goes to the medical staff who protested against CIGNA — in their effort to honor Nathalie’s RIGHT TO LIFE. Merry Christmas.

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  4. Good morning, Helen–

    I understand your viewpoint, but in this case, the family had insurance. In the case of my friend Bethani, she had no insurance, and it seems is receiving the best of care at a major hospital.

    I agree that something needs to be done, although I don’t believe socialized medicine is the answer.

    Have a merry day.

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  5. My opinion, we don’t need insurance companies; we need medical treatment for all. Right now the rich get good treatment, and the poor get, well, death in this case. Is it life or money we revere? There has to be a more fair way, even if it’s socialized medicine.

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  6. LINDA, you bring up interesting viewpoints, and I agree with most of your considerations. I certainly did not see yesterday–but have today–that the parents withdrew life support from their daughter. Indeed, that strikes me as strange.

    As I mentioned in my original post, I hardly think CIGNA is evil and I certainly have no intention of demonizing them.

    Yet, I maintain that a doctor’s orders for treatment should supersede an insurance executive’s thoughts. Probably an interesting angle to this is: sometimes doctors order treatments/medication to appease patients that are in no way effective. I’m thinking in particular of antibiotics being given for colds, the flu and such, when there is no evidence of its being helpful–except perhaps in guarding against secondary infections.

    I believe doctors should stand up to patients and say, “You don’t need an antibiotic.”

    If the doctors truly didn’t believe a liver transplant was in the best interest of Nataline, perhaps they should have said so. If indeed, they considered her a viable candidate for a transplant, my thoughts are that she should have gone on the list…and be funded by her insurance company.

    Complicated, I know.

    Linda, I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. Have a wonderful Christmas.

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  7. Insurance companies can be quite frustrating. It will be interesting to see what Geragos can do with this case. If CIGNA is so difficult, as per Virginia, maybe they need this lawsuit to prevent further problems with other insured patients.

    I am not so sure America has the best medical treatments. Check the link below to read some reports from World Health Organization.
    http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/081407O.shtml

    My heart goes out to Nataline’s family.

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  8. I follow closely a couple of french and canadians blogs. There is trouble there too. Times are changing were quickly. So much is wrong in our world, so much does not make any sense.
    This story is sad and makes me angry at the same time.
    Sis Buxton you bring up many pertinent topics on this blog – some people will get a wake up call by reading it.
    “God so loved the world …”
    Let us pray for the world that souls would turn to God in time if need.
    Someone posted a piece titled “Do you know what time it is?”.We do, the news confirms it,
    you post it.
    I’m so thankful for Jesus, my Everything.

    God bless you.

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  9. My UNOS numbers are incorrect, sorry. UNOS (one organ donation service -there are others) has 100,000 on it’s list for all types of organs. 22,000 patients received organs from about 11,000 donors in the first 9 months of this year. I have found many different wildly varying numbers of patients who are waiting for livers, specifically. Regardless of how many are waiting, few actually get a liver.

    One more thing I forgot to mention. Cancer usually makes a person not an acceptable organ donor or organ recipient.

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  10. What a heartbreaker, but then memory took me to Bethani, and how through the power of prayer pre-authorization was given. I am so thankful that we know Him and His power. He is the ultimate insurance carrier.

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  11. While it is always tragic when someone who is so young passes away you have to ask when is it time to say enough. This young woman had also already undergone a BMT (bone marrow transplant) for her cancer. I have no idea how successful yet another extremely expensive procedure would even be for a person with this girl’s very severe medical problems. I do not hold CIGNA responsible for her death. Insurance companies do not have a limitless supply of money.

    I do however find it somewhat strange that the family withdrew life support from their daughter after CIGNA relented about covering the transplant. I’d like to know more about that.

    From a statistical standpoint, even if CIGNA had authorized the transplant immediately, there wasn’t much of a chance that a liver match would have been found for her. Most people on the liver list do not end up getting one. According to UNOS, as of today, there are nearly 100,000 people waiting for liver transplants. In the first 9 months of this year, less than 22,000 patients received livers. Many die waiting.

    Additionally, I would like to know what the doctors told the family about how successful they believed this procedure would be for her. Often doctors will lay out the options and give the potential risks and benefits and the patient and family ends up choosing an option which the doctors do not recommend. They may have told the family that this was her only chance for survival, but that there was little possibility of success, either short term or long term. I am sure we will learn much more about the details of this case as time goes on.

    Undoubtedly, this case will stimulate much debate about healthcare in America, which, by the way, is the best healthcare system in the world. In a perfect world everyone could get unlimited healthcare and have access to limitless resources. It’s just not as simple as “I need it, so I should get it.” That’s neither reasonable, nor logical.

    I doubt that in any other country it would ever even be considered that this limited resource (a liver) would be given to this tragic young lady.

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  12. Oh, Virginia, this is just the saddest thing. I know there are no guarantees the transplant would have saved her, but she was just a teen-ager and should have had every chance.

    I’m praying for the family that God will console them.

    Have a merry Christmas.

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  13. Virginia Clark

    I’ve worked in a hospital for years. I sometimes have to request authorizations from insurance companies. This company is one of the hardest to get authorizations from. Doctors spend so much time submitting documentation to these companies, it’s a wonder they have any time for their patients in the office.

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