Family of dead teen to sue insurer that dallied on liver transplant
David Edwards and Jason Rhyne
Published: Friday December 21, 2007 |
Print This  Email This

California nurses group says insurer CIGNA has 'blood on their hands'

The family of a 17-year-old California girl who died after being initially denied payment for a liver transplant is suing the teen's insurance company, an attorney for the family said Friday.

Nataline Sarkisyan, who died Thursday night after her family removed her from life support, had been in a vegetative state for weeks due to complications following a bone marrow transplant. Insurer CIGNA HealthCare had first denied a doctor-recommended liver transplant for Nataline, who suffered from leukemia, but had reversed course yesterday in the face of mounting public pressure.

The girl had been hospitalized since mid-November, but her condition had recently worsened due to a lung condition, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. It was not immediately clear when Nataline entered a vegetative state.

Noted defense attorney Mark Geragos told reporters at a Friday news conference that the girl's family will file a civil lawsuit against CIGNA, as well as urge a California district attorney to seek either manslaughter or murder charges against the company.

"CIGNA Health Corporation literally, maliciously killed her...they conciously disregarded her life," Geragos said of CIGNA. "And they did that for one specific reason: they did not want to pay for her after-care."

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to CIGNA on Dec. 11 stating that patients in similar situations who undergo transplants had a six-month survival rate of about 65 percent. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant, saying the procedure was experimental and outside the scope of coverage.

On Thursday, about 150 teenagers and nurses protested outside CIGNA's office in Glendale, Calif. As the protesters rallied, the company rethought its earlier decision and said it would approve the transplant.

But the reversal didn't come early enough to help Nataline.

Liz Jacobs, a spokeswoman for the California Nurses Association -- one of the groups that had pushed for CIGNA to change its mind -- told RAW STORY that it was fair to hold the the insurer at fault.

"This is a tragedy that could have been prevented," said Jacobs, who is a registered nurse. "They have blood on their hands, they were responsible."

Jacobs added that it was unfortunate that the family had to resort to outside efforts to convince CIGNA to grant the transplant.

"For them to have to go through what they've had to go through, calling a press conference, a rally. CIGNA was inundated...people shouldn't have to go to these lengths" she said. "We have dedicated our mission as nurses to advocate for patients -- and often, more and more, that means taking it beyond the hospitals and into the marble lobbies of the insurance companies."

Despite their late change of policy, CIGNA said in an e-mail statement before the girl died that there was a lack of medical evidence showing the procedure would work in Nataline's case.

"Our hearts go out to Nataline and her family, as they endure this terrible ordeal," the company said. " ... CIGNA HealthCare has decided to make an exception in this rare and unusual case and we will provide coverage should she proceed with the requested liver transplant."

In emotional statements at Friday's press conference, Nataline's father and brother spoke out against the insurance company.

"These CIGNA people," said Nataline's father, "they cannot make people's decision whether they're going to live or die."

(with wire reports)

This video is from, broadcast on December 21, 2007.