Edwards Joined by Medical Victims
Associated Press Writer
In an emotional campaign event, Democrat John Edwards was joined Sunday by three families that suffered medical tragedies as he continued to pound insurance companies for what he calls greedy decisions that hurt working families.
Some in the Manchester audience of 500 fought tears as they heard from the mother, father and brother of Nataline Sarkisyan of California, who died last month at 17. The family blames a health insurance company that declined to authorize payment for a liver transplant until just before she passed away.
Edwards, a former North Carolina senator who made his fortune as a personal injury lawyer, talks about the Sarkisyans at virtually every campaign event, arguing that "corporate greed" is seriously hurting the middle class. Sunday marked the first day time the family members joined him on stage.
Minutes before Nataline died, "I promised her everyone in the world is going to know her story," said her brother, Bedig, 21, whose bone marrow was transplanted in a bid to arrest her leukemia.
Her father, speaking in a heavy Armenian accent, told the rapt audience that his insurance provider, Cigna HealthCare, "killed my daughter. I don't have daughter anymore."
Medical officials at UCLA and elsewhere had urged Cigna to approve a liver transplant. But in lengthy exchanges, the company said the operation would be experimental, and therefore was not covered under the family's plan.
The company eventually reversed the decision, but it was too late. The company said it had decided to make an exception out of empathy for the family and unique circumstances of the case but still defended the earlier rejection.
After Nataline's death, Cigna said two independent experts "agreed that the procedure in question, given the patient's particular circumstances, would not have been an effective or appropriate treatment."
Edwards said the Sarkisyans contacted his campaign after hearing the candidate Thursday night on TV from Iowa, and volunteered to campaign for him.
Also joining Edwards on stage was James Lowe, who lived with a cleft palate for 50 years, lacking health insurance, and Sandy Lakey, whose family won a large settlement with Edwards as their lawyer after their young daughter suffered severe injuries in a swimming pool incident. Edwards often cites Lowe, whose tearful comments on stage Sunday were barely audible, in his campaign speeches.
Edwards said the three families personify damage done by the nation's failure to provide universal health coverage and to regulate insurers more rigorously. "How long are we going to let drug companies and insurance companies run this country?" Edwards said, drawing cheers in a packed auditorium.
Speaking later to reporters, Edwards said he and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama offer real change to voters in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, while New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton represents "the status quo."
He said he could produce change more readily because Obama "has more of a philosophical, academic approach to it."
"He just believes you can negotiate with people," Edwards said, when in fact some corporations must be dealt with more severely.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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