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CIGNA Capitulates to Patient Revolt

Following Massive Protest, Insurer Authorizes Transplant for 17-year-old

Nataline Sarkisyan

CNA/NNOC-Sponsored Protest Sparks Flood of Calls from Across U.S.

GLENDALE, Calif., Dec. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- In a stunning turn around, insurance giant CIGNA has capitulated to community demands, and protests that the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee helped to generate, and agreed to a critically needed liver transplant for Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old girl in the intensive care unit at UCLA Medical Center.

A national web of friends and family of Nataline, CNA/NNOC registered nurses, doctors, members of the Armenian community, healthcare advocates, and netroots supporters pitched in on an unprecedented national day of action on Nataline's behalf.

The centerpiece of the protests was an impassioned rally today sponsored by CNA/NNOC with the substantial help of the local Armenian community that drew 150 people to the Glendale offices of CIGNA. Hundreds of phone callers clogged the lines of CIGNA offices around the country, all demanding that CIGNA reverse its prior denial of care.

"This is an incredible turnaround generated by a massive outpouring around the country that proves that an enraged public can make a difference and achieve results," said CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. "CIGNA had to back down in the face of a mobilized network of patient advocates and healthcare activists who would not take no for an answer."

The netroot protest was organized by Eve Gittelson, an influential health policy blogger who writes on Daily Kos as nyceve, and many of the calls were also the product of work by the Armenian National Committee.

"Nataline is now seriously ill and still has significant hurdles in her fight for her life, but thankfully our combined voices and protests have finally given her and her family hope," said Geri Jenkins, RN, a member of the CNA/NNOC Council of Presidents who works in a transplant unit at the University of California San Diego Medical Center.

"However, it is deplorable and appalling that CIGNA needed to have hundreds of people pounding on their doors and besieging them with calls to take the humanitarian step they should have done long before today," said Jenkins, who spoke at the Glendale rally.

Nataline's mother, Hilda Sarkisyan, expressed her profound thanks to CNA/NNOC. "We couldn't have done this without you helping us to stand up against this insurance company and forcing them to finally do the right thing. It is not right in this country for it to take a rally, a protest, and a major press conference to get an insurance company to listen."

"Every politician who thinks the answer to our healthcare crisis is more insurance should stop and think about Nataline Sarkisyan," said DeMoro. "Insurance is not care. Paying for insurance coverage is not the same as assuring you will receive appropriate care, even when recommended by a physician as it was for Nataline. Insurance corporations profit by denying care to the sick, and that is no way to run a humane healthcare system."

DeMoro said that CNA/NNOC will continue to encourage patient protests and publicize stories about insurance companies' denial of care, as it has all year through its website, while pressing for real healthcare reform "that takes medical decisions out of the hands of insurers and places them where they belong, in the hands of healthcare professionals and their families."

Background on case:

"My daughter survived two bouts of cancer, and against all odds has been stable even with so many of her organs not working, only to be told that she cannot get the only treatment that will save her life because some administrator in some office thinks it is too expensive," said Hilda Sarkisyan. "We needed help in standing up against this insurance provider, and of course it was the nurses who stepped forward."

In a Dec. 11 letter to CIGNA's transplant department, four UCLA physicians said that Nataline "currently meets criteria to be listed as Status 1A" for a transplant and urged the company to "urgently re-review her case" and their denial. CIGNA said it denied the care because their benefit plan "does not cover experimental, investigational and unproven services," to which the doctors replied, "Nataline's case is in fact none of the above."

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.

CNA/NNOC is the nation's largest and fastest-growing union of direct-care RNs, with some 75,000 members in all 50 states.

SOURCE California Nurses Association
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