Insurance Co's Zero Hour Healthcare Approval Kills Patient

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An insurance company that initially refused to pay for a liver transplant for a 17-year-old Northridge girl who died in a hospital should face criminal charges and pay civil damages, an attorney for the girl's family said Friday.

Cigna HealthCare "literally, maliciously killed" Nataline Sarkisyan, attorney Mark Geragos told reporters in downtown Los Angeles.

Sarkisyan died at 5:50 p.m. Thursday after being pulled off life support at UCLA Medical Center.

Geragos said Cigna twice took Sarkisyan off the liver transplant list
and purposely waited until she was near death to approve the transplant because the company didn't want to pay for her after-care.

Cigna announced yesterday -- just hours before the girl died -- it would pay for the transplant. "Cigna decided that they were going to take profits over this little, beautiful princess' life," Geragos said. "We believe that they single- handedly decided that they wanted to have her die and wait so they would not have to take the after-care coverage."

Geragos said a civil lawsuit would be filed and he plans to petition
District Attorney Steve Cooley to pursue murder or manslaughter charges against Cigna. "I believe that it's criminal and this corporation should be held accountable," Geragos said, adding this could be a "test case" because no such criminal complaint has yet been brought against a health insurance company.

In a statement issued yesterday after it had approved the transplant, the
company said the procedure "was outside the scope of the plan's coverage."
"... and despite the lack of medical evidence regarding the
effectiveness of such treatment, 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. Our thoughts and prayers are with Nataline and her family at this time."

Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, said it
would be inappropriate to comment on any possible criminal charges against Cigna since Geragos has yet to present anything to prosecutors.

Sarkisyan's 21-year-old brother, Bedros, told reporters that UCLA had a
liver available for transplant, but they could not perform the procedure
because of Cigna's refusal to cover it.

The girl's father, Krikor Sarkisyan, held a photograph of his daughter,
and with his eyes wet with tears, cried out. "They took my daughter away from me!"

"The Cigna people, they cannot make people's decision if they (are)
going to life or die," he said through a heavy accent. "Doctors ... they all
signed the papers. ... Cigna denied it two times."

Cigna insurance initially declined to pay for the transplant for Nataline Sarkisyan because her plan did not cover "experimental, investigational and unproven services," her doctors said.

The denial prompted nationwide protests, including a rally outside
Cigna's Glendale offices yesterday and complaints by members of the California Nurses Association. About 15 minutes into the rally, Cigna announced it would approve the transplant.

But last night, Nataline's parents had her removed from life support at
Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA"because her condition was hopeless,"
family friend Steve Artinian told reporters.

"Now we have to start the healing process to try to figure out what
happened and why it happened," Artinian said.

A state and national nurses organization blasted Cigna's decision to
deny Nataline's transplant. "Why didn't they just listen to the medical professionals at the bedside in the first place?" said Geri Jenkins, a registered nurse and member of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee Council of Presidents. "Insurance companies have a stranglehold on our health," said CNA/NNOC Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro. "Their first priority is to make profits for their shareholders and the way they do that is by denying care."

Nataline had been in a vegetative state for three weeks, according to
her mother, Hilda Sarkisyan. The girl was diagnosed with leukemia at age 14.

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