Edwards, America Prefer Simple Stories

John Edwards likes his meat a little olderLast week in his little post-caucus speech, John Edwards made mention of Nataline Sarkisyan, the California girl whose insurance company denied her a liver transplant until she was basically almost dead. After hearing that, Nataline's grieving family called the campaign and, this weekend, stumped for him in New Hampshire. Is it more complicated then it sounds? The Wall Street Journal says yes. Does anyone care? Probably not.

So Nataline had a bone marrow transplant to combat leukemia, shortly after which her liver failed and she slipped into a coma. Her doctors recommended a liver transplant, Cigna denied it on the advice of their medical professionals, her family appealed and contacted the media and Cigna reversed its position too late to help Nataline and she died. Or, that's the bare outlines of the story Edwards and the family tell.

Actually, Nataline's father's company was self-insured, and Cigna only administered the plan -- which technically means that they, like, recommended denying it but the insurance "company" is Grigor Sarkisyan's employer. When Cigna offered to pay for the operation, they weren't actually reversing the insurance decision, but the PR side of the company probably was willing to spend the money on the surgery to make the problem go away (a little late to the game, guys) despite not actually being the insurer. Since the brouhaha, a number of other doctors and biomedical ethicists have weighed in pointing out that very few public health systems would have paid for the surgery, which was incredibly expensive and might have prolonged but not saved her life (if the surgery itself didn't kill her, because she was rather sick at the time). So, it's not exactly as simple and clear-cut at Edwards is making it, though it makes a great story, which is why he keeps telling it. Also, I think it might sort of be kind of shitty to take her grieving family on the campaign trail to try to drum up votes, but that's maybe just me. They're obviously more than willing to be used by the Edwards campaign if it gives them a platform to talk about how Cigna killed their daughter.

Cigna, by the way, has no idea why this has become a campaign issue, which I guess means every single fucking person at the company besides the PR guy who was like "For Chrissakes, pay for the fucking surgery already before we get hammered any more" doesn't realize that pretty much the entire country hates health insurance companies for doing this shit all the time.

A Medical Case Becomes Political [Wall Street Journal]


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