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Health Last Updated: Dec 24th, 2007 - 01:35:15

Teenage girl dies so CIGNA execs can get richer
By Mary Shaw
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 24, 2007, 01:32

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It's like a story straight out of the movie SiCKO.

A pretty 17-year-old California girl needed a liver transplant, but her insurance company, CIGNA (based right here in Philadelphia), said they would not pay for it.

The public caught wind of this, and the public protested. As a group of nurses and other citizens rallied outside CIGNA's office in Glendale, California, on December 20, the company decided to reverse its decision.

But it was too little, too late.

Nataline Sarkisyan died just a few hours after CIGNA's reversal, after having spent weeks of her short life in a vegetative state.

Now Nataline's family is planning to sue CIGNA, as well they should. They have hired superstar attorney Mark Geragos, who plans to ask the district attorney to press murder or manslaughter charges against CIGNA in this case.

Ironically, CIGNA uses the slogan "A Business of Caring" in its advertising and on its website. But they didn't seem to care much about whether Nataline lived or died.

As this case demonstrates, and as filmmaker Michael Moore illustrated through several similar cases in SiCKO, the U.S. health insurance industry is more concerned with their own profits than it is with the health of its policyholders. If people must suffer and die so that their insurers can make money, then so be it.

It's no coincidence, then, that the United States ranks 37th in the World Health Organization's rankings of the world's health systems (below Malta, Iceland, Saudi Arabia, and numerous other countries that might surprise you). Yes, apparently you can get better health care in the United Arab Emirates than you can in the good ol' USA.

We've got good medical technology. We've got good hospitals. We've got good doctors and nurses. But the insurance companies get in the way.

This is not just a medical issue or a political issue. It is a human rights issue. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Got that? Medical care, and security in the event of sickness or disability. But not for Nataline Sarkisyan. Because CIGNA needs to make big money.

CIGNA raked in $16.5 billion in revenue in 2006 (yes, that's "billion" with a "b"), but they couldn't afford to give Nataline a new liver when she needed it.

The U.S. is considered the richest country in the world. Clearly those riches are not distributed in interest of the common good.

And, given Congress's lack of a backbone with which to stand up for the rights of the non-rich and non-powerful, I don't hold out much hope for change. And I wonder how many more Natalines will have to die so that corporations can continue to rake in their obscene, bloody profits.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites. Note that the ideas expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Amnesty International or any other organization with which she may be associated. E-mail:

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