Teen's Family Plans to Sue Health Insurer Over Transplant Delay


The family of a 17-year-old girl who died hours after her health insurer reversed its previous decision and said it would pay for a liver transplant planned to sue CIGNA HealthCare, their attorney said Friday.

Attorney Mark Geragos said he also plans to ask the district attorney to press murder or manslaughter charges against CIGNA HealthCare for the death of Nataline Sarkisyan.

The insurer "maliciously killed her" because it did not want to bear the expense of her transplant and aftercare, Geragos said at a news conference outside his downtown Los Angeles office. He did not say when or in what court he would file the suit.

Nataline died Thursday at about 6 p.m. at the University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center. She had been in a vegetative state for weeks before she was taken off life support at 5:20 p.m. with the family's approval.

Nataline had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow
transplant from her brother. She developed a complication, however,
that caused her liver to fail.

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to CIGNA on Dec. 11. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant, saying the procedure was experimental and outside the scope of coverage.

"They took my daughter away from me," said Nataline's father, Krikor, who appeared at the news conference with his 21-year-old son, Bedros.

About 150 teenagers and nurses had protested outside CIGNA's office in Glendale on Thursday. As the protesters rallied, the company reversed its decision and said it would approve the transplant.

Despite the reversal, CIGNA said in an e-mail statement beforeshe 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 their letter, the UCLA doctors said patients in situations similar to Nataline's who undergo transplants have a six-month survival rate of about 65 percent.

One of the doctors, Robert Venick, declined to comment on Nataline's case when reached at his office Friday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-12-21-07 1418EST

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