Naline Sarkisyan is unfortunately a name that many of us are familiar with for the wrong reasons. Cigna had denied her request for a liver transplant and many people were outraged by their denial, multiple denials in fact. It became a much more public issue when The California Nurses Association urged people to call Cigna on her behalf. There was a post at the Daily Kos and other liberal blogs which urged people to call Cigna and let them know that they were being watched. After one day of badgering by the blogosphere, Cigna decided to approve the transplant, sadly it was too late and on the very same day, Nataline passed away.
John Edwards started to talk about Nataline’s case as an example of what is currently wrong with our system of health care. Why are large corporations deciding who lives and dies rather than leaving that decision up to the patient and their doctors. And when do you decide that the cost is too much to bear for a few extra precious months of life? It’s not cut and dry and of course it never should be.
During John’s speech after the Iowa Caucuses, he also spoke of Nataline’s story and it grabbed her mother’s attention. Was that right? Was a politician running for President talking about her child? He was.
But I want all of us to remember tonight while weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re having all these political celebrations, that just a few weeks ago in America, Nataline Sarkisian (ph), a 17- year-old girl who had a — needed a liver transplant, and whose insurance company decided they wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t pay for her liver transplant operation.
Finally, her nurses spoke up on her behalf. Her doctors spoke up on her behalf. Ultimately, the American people spoke up on her behalf by marching and picketing in front of her health insurance carrier. And, finally, the insurance carrier caved in and agreed to pay for her operation. And when they notified the family just a few hours later, she died. She lost her life. Why? Why?
It was then that the family called the campaign and asked how they could help Edwards and his campaign in New Hampshire. Below are the comments that Nataline’s brother, mother and father made at a John Edwards event on the trail this Sunday during his health care forum.
NatalineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mother Hilda Sarkisyan said that the familyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fight goes beyond that on behalf of her daughter.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We yelled and screamed and finally they [CIGNA] told us they would make an exception,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Mrs. Sarkisyan. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What does that mean? Only Nataline can live and not you guys? ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not right. What about the other parents that cannot speak?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“For every mom and dad out there, we have to make a change. We have to vote for the perfect president,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“No one can help us. This is it. We have to vote for Mr. Edwards. We have to.Ã¢â‚¬Â
NatalineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father Grigor said that he promised buy his daughter a car when sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d get better.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You guys know what I got for her after she passed away? I bought a coffin for her,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said fighting through his grief. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Because CIGNA… they killed my daughter.Ã¢â‚¬Â
It’s heartbreaking to hear from Nataline’s family first hand, but you can tell that hey were genuinely touched by Edwards mentioning their daughter when he was given a few precious moments to speak after the caucus. He did not concede, because John knew it was his chance to speak about what he wants to do for us. Cynically the Clinton campaign assumed Edwards was playing politics and had contacted Nataline’s family merely for the spotlight and that he didn’t talk about real people he had helped. (Um, we know that’s not true). I had to include the following to clarify.
Mr. Edwards was responding to a comment from Jay Carson, Mrs. ClintonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s spokesman, who suggested that Ã¢â‚¬Å“the references in Senator ClintonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s speeches are about people she has actually helped and changes she has actually made, not stories sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pulled from the newspaper and included in her stump,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Carson wrote in an E-mail message.
Mr. CarsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comment was in reference to an emotional town hall event Mr. Edwards held in Manchester early Sunday afternoon, featuring an appearance by the parents of Nataline Sarkisyan, a 17-year-old leukemia patient who died in December after her insurance company denied her a liver transplant. Mr. Edwards had recently incorporated the story into his stump speech as a criticism of insurance companies.
Speaking at a news conference after the Manchester event, Mr. Edwards responded to Mr. CarsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comment when a reporter read it to him.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Sarkisyans contacted me because they believe IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m the kind of president who will actually fight for their daughter,Ã¢â‚¬Â Mr. Edwards said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“People who have been through these difficult times against entrenched, powerful moneyed interests Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they get it. They get it in a serious way. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not looking for somebody whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll make deals.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Why is it that something this awful has to happen to illustrate an important part of what John Edwards is talking about when he says you cannot negotiate with these people? Nataline’s family negotiated and fought and it took the voices of many to get the go ahead to save or at least, lengthen her life. I believe this is what Edwards means when he says he needs us. He needs our voices to speak for those who have no voice. It won’t just be him fighting, he needs us to help him fight, by going to polls, by holding our elected officials accountable and by showing just where the priorities are of large corporations like Cigna. This is the kind of fight he’s talking about.