Hilda and Krikor Sarkisyan went to CIGNA's Philadelphia headquarters, along with supporters from the California Nurses Association, to confront the CEO Edward Hanway over the death of her 17-year-old child.
In 2007, Nataline Sarkisyan was denied a liver transplant by the company, on the grounds that the operation was "too experimental" to be covered. Nine days later it changed its mind, in response to protests outside its office. It was too late: Nataline died hours later.
"CIGNA killed my daughter," Nataline's mother Hilda told security. "I want an apology." Sarkisyan was not able to speak to Hanway; a communications specialist talked to her instead. After their conversation, employees heckled the group from a balcony; one man gave them the finger. CIGNA called the police and had the family and their friends escorted from the building.
A CIGNA executive apologized for the incident in a letter about a month later.
"I was very disappointed to learn of the behavior of one of our employees when you were at our company's headquarters," wrote John M. Murabito, executive vice president for human resources.
"I sincerely regret this individual's offensive and inappropriate action," he continued. "Please know that he did not represent the views of our company or the views of other employees who work here. We deeply empathize with you and wish you peace and comfort in your loss."
"What unbelievable nerve," said Americans United For Change spokesman Jeremy Funk in a statement. "A case that should have prompted CIGNA to seriously reevaluate its policies instead led its employees to taunt and insult a grieving mother who lost her daughter. Absolutely sick. Does Congress need any more reasons to pass meaningful health insurance reform now?"
The Sarkisyan family's wrongful-death suit was thrown out of court because of a 1987 Supreme Court ruling that shields employer-paid health care plans from damages over their coverage decisions.
The Sarkisyans say the law needs to be changed to allow people to sue health insurers for these kinds of decisions.
"If you don't sue, you can't make changes," Hilda Sarkisyan said. "It's not about the money. It's about the principle. They are just going to keep denying people care if we don't stop them."
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