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'I Was Denied a Bone Marrow Transplant and Risked Arrest for Health Care for All'
A cancer patient’s story of insurance company denial of care; he may finally get an answer today
PROVIDENCE, R.I. - October 29 - Robert Darling, 59, risked arrest yesterday when he entered the Warwick, Rhode Island, offices of UnitedHealth insurance company with other health care reform supporters and asked for answers regarding his denial of a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. The supporters occupied the lobby of UnitedHealth for over an hour, but Darling was willing to wait longer. He's been waiting for five years for an answer from UnitedHealth.
Darling is a cancer patient and resident of Providence, Rhode Island, with a smile that's contagious. Darling was diagnosed with multiple mylenoma, a form of cancer, five years ago. He received chemotherapy, which his insurance company, UnitedHealth, paid for. However, his cancer had advanced to the stage at which a bone marrow transplant was the only thing that could extend his life.
Darling was told by his doctors in Rhode Island that UnitedHealth insurance would not let them proceed with the bone marrow transplant. Darling appealed the insurance company's decision, writing and calling for months, which gave his cancer time to worsen. His weight had gone from 180 to 135 by the time he started calling every UnitedHealth employee in the phone book. Finally a secretary gave him a hint to go to a Boston hospital that would give him a transplant without UnitedHealth's approval.
Darling packed up his car and drove to the Boston hospital immediately, where doctors told him that they had a federal program to allow them to do certain transplants. They checked him over and advised that he urgently needed a transplant if he was expected to live. He was able to get his transplant that had the potential to extend his life 2-5 years. That was three years ago, and Darling is back up to about 170 pounds and feeling fine. UnitedHealth has never returned his calls, and they have not covered the follow-up treatments he's needed following his surgery.
UnitedHealth passed the cost of Darling's lifesaving bone marrow transplant on to the federal government, but they are still denying him coverage for necessary follow-up treatment. Darling is currently paying for this treatment out of pocket, paying over $4,000 per year on his treatments.
"If I had waited for UnitedHealth to call me, I have no doubt I would be dead right now, all because they were trying to protect their profits," says Darling. "We need a system based on patients, not profits. We need health care for all!"
Darling risked arrest yesterday by entering the offices of UnitedHealth with other supporters of health care for all to demand a reply to the many requests that he had sent them, and to ask why they never covered his bone marrow transplant and were refusing to cover his follow-up treatment. A UnitedHealth communications director came out to the lobby and promised that she would have an answer for them by 5 PM today.