Health Reform 2009: Would Nataline's Life Be Spared?

years ago, on December 20, 2007, Nataline Sarkisyan died. She was just 17
years old. Her mother and father grieve the loss of their angel. And every
Christmas season from now until they pass from this earth, the Sarkisyan family
will embrace Nataline's memory and wonder what might have been.

years ago, on December 20, 2007, Nataline Sarkisyan died. She was just 17
years old. Her mother and father grieve the loss of their angel. And every
Christmas season from now until they pass from this earth, the Sarkisyan family
will embrace Nataline's memory and wonder what might have been.

needed a liver transplant. Her insurance company wouldn't pay. In spite of
protests by friends, family, bloggers and even the nurses of the California
Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, the insurance company
held fast until it was too late for Nataline. The denial of care decision was
reversed, but she died without the transplant.

December 20th, we heard much about the great victory coming in the
Senate with the health insurance reform bill touted by the President as
historic. Having passed one major hurdle with the vote taken early Monday, the
Senate bill will likely pass sometime before Christmas Eve and will then need
to be reconciled with the House effort before the President can sign whatever
Congress presents him and claim his full measure of political victory. "Seven
Presidents have tried and failed," we hear already as the rhetoric advances
much more readily than real healthcare reform

what about Nataline? And all the others?

no mistake, given the chance, Republicans would protect no life, no health as a
matter of right outside of the womb. It seems the staunch conservatives' love
of God and his laws claimed to forbid abortion ends in the birth canal when
survival of the fittest and market-based healthcare becomes the right of those
financially privileged babies and parents while the poor ought to quake in the
shame of their entitlement mentalities.

the Republicans simultaneously trashed any "government run" healthcare while
scaring the bejeebers out of seniors about having some cuts to Medicare
benefits. As a man who has only spent four years of his life on this planet
without government run healthcare (through the VA and his Congressional
position), John McCain should know better. He does know better. They all know

is no criticism of one party or person alone or a left-leaning advocate blaming
the left for its failure. This legislation just doesn't protect us from the
healthcare denials and financial ruin so many people have suffered in this
nation. This legislation is not the protection of a human right.

what of children like Nataline under this new and already proclaimed as
historic Senate health reform effort? Would future Nataline's have a better
chance at survival under this reform? In a word: No. In fact, in order to
maximize profits and to do an end-run around a few of the insurance restrictions
this bill would put in place, the potential will now be much greater that more
deaths like that of the young Nataline Sarkisyan will be required for the
insurance giants to hold onto their profit margins.

who support the bill will argue that insurance companies will no longer be able
to use pre-existing conditions to deny coverage. OK. And insurance companies
will not be able to rescind policies retroactively, except in cases of fraud
and the like. OK. And insurance companies will not be able to impose lifetime
caps on benefits, though "reasonable" annual benefit caps will still be allowed
(wink, wink). OK.

where are the protections against denying treatment ordered by physicians like
the ones who argued for Nataline's liver transplant? Where are the immediate
avenues to appeal that would offer the only way to really save lives like
Nataline's when insurance companies practice medicine and deny treatments?
There are no such protections in any of the reform plans in Congress or even
envisioned by the President.

death would still be a more profitable decision than approving her treatment.

Nataline had received her liver transplant, would she have lived to go to
college? Have her dad give her away in marriage? Have children? Grandkids?
To become the fashion designer she longed to be? We cannot answer that without

what we do know is that her doctors believed the chances were good enough to
try. It was her insurance company's bottom line that was the deciding factor -
ask Wendell Potter, the former CIGNA spokesman who is now talking from outside
the industry, how this played out inside CIGNA, if you wonder even a bit about
the process. Market-based insurance means just what it says. It is not patient-based
healthcare; it is market-based health industry profit. Nataline's death
protected that bottom line.

weekend I heard that insurance company stocks have reached their most
profitable place of the past 52 years since the passage of the Senate's health
bill seemed more assured. (See today's Reuters article: The insurance industry
is most pleased today.

how does our healthcare future look in this nation under either the Democrats
or the Republicans? How many more Nataline's will we tolerate before we demand
we truly reform the system to strip the profit motive from the medical-care decision-making
process? I do not know. Apparently our capacity to watch our fellow citizens
suffer is quite high.

I know today is that my friends, the Sarkisyan family, are grieving again. Two
long years since that horrible day and just an instant since they said goodbye
to Nataline, it seems all at once. Such is the grief of a parent. And they
are good enough and decent enough people that they would spare every other
parent in this nation a similar fate by seeing true healthcare reform place the
medical decisions - the life and death choices - in the hands of those medical
professionals who have the best motives possible for the outcomes rather than
protection of stock prices and CEO salaries and bonuses.

is our collective compassion? Can we embrace Nataline's memory and ask our
elected officials if what they are proposing for us protects our children in
the future? If we don't, we will see more not fewer Nataline-like stories in
the holiday seasons to come.

wrote long ago in his holiday tale, "A Christmas Carol" of Tiny Tim Crachit,
the child struggling with illness within a family with hard-working parents who
could not provide him enough healthcare for his condition. Though that classic
was written long ago with characters eventually rescued by an enlightened
Scrooge, we see no such enlightenment forthcoming in this healthcare debate in
modern America in 2009. We are not moving more aggressively away from those
tales of horror but more surely toward an emboldened policy of healthcare based
on privilege and on greed.

Dickens wrote: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see
that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

all we can say of this healthcare reform effort, let's not be ignorant about
who wins and who loses, at least. This has not been about the Nataline
Sarkisyan's of America. And this holiday season, God help us, every one.

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