The family of a cancer patient, who was denied insurance coverage by Aetna was awarded $25.5 million by an Oklahoma jury, who said that the firm acted “recklessly” in denying funds when needed. It said that the verdict was meant to be a message to Aetna to change its attitude towards customers and it could have major ramifications for other service providers across the country. This award is believed to be the largest award given to an individual by an insurance company for “bad faith” in the state’s history. The case involves the denial of insurance coverage in 2014 for Arena Cunningham, who was suffering from Stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer that was near her brain stem.
Doctors wanted to treat arena with a new technology called proton beam therapy, which targets radiation to her tumors only without touching other parts of the brain that could cause blindness or other side effects. This therapy is considered better than standard radiation, but Aetna denied her coverage and called the treatment experimental. But her husband Ron who had retired as a firefighter in 1987 was determined to do whatever was necessary to save her so mortgaged their home and set up a fund page to collect money for her therapy.
But unfortunately Orrana aged 54 died in May the following year as the infection reached her brain. Ron continued the fight as Orrana had completed the initial paperwork to file a lawsuit against Aetna with a hope that even if it saved life of one person the struggle would be worth it. Ron expressed satisfaction at the verdict, saying that it was his wife’s wish. Aetna attorney supported the three medical directors that denied coverage to Orrana who were present in court during the proceedings which the jurors regarded as “reckless and disregard of duty towards Cunningham family”. Jury forewoman Ann Schlotthauer said that jurors were turned off by one of Aetna’s medical directors who said that they spent more time in preparing the case than on consideration of Orrana’s medical case.