Orrana Cunningham | Go Fund Me

An Oklahoma City woman named Orrana Cunningham was denied coverage by Aetna for proton beam therapy when she was battling cancer in 2014. She died less than a year later from a viral infection.

Proton beam therapy differs from normal radiation in that it targets only cancerous cells. Other tissues on the way to the tumor remain unharmed. It is particularly useful for those whose cancer is near sensitive areas, such as the spine or brain stem, where normal radiation can carry a risk of damaging those tissues.

Cunningham's tumor was near her brain stem. Yet an Aetna doctor deemed the procedure "experimental" and two other doctors backed the ruling. In papers filed in the lawsuit, one Aetna doctor complained of the sheer volume of filings they deal with every day. This past Monday, a jury ruled against the insurance company, ordering them to pay $25.5 million to Cunningham's family.

The family's attorney, Doug Terry, argued that Medicare covers proton beam therapy outright, and questioned why the insurance company considers the treatment necessary for a 65-year-old patient and experimental for a 54-year-old.

Andrew L. Chang, an oncologist and radiation expert was one of the star witnesses in the case. He stated:

"The thing I tried to illustrate to the jury is that proton therapy is not a new, experimental technique, like Aetna wants to claim. Proton therapy is a well-established treatment for cancer and has been for decades."

While Cunningham started the lawsuit against Aetna, she didn't live to see its result.

However, her husband, Ron, stated:

"My wife, her goal, was to make this fight. Her comment was, 'If we can save one person and stop Aetna from doing what they traditionally do on every claim, it was worth the battle.'"

People lamented the state of health care in the United States.





Others shared their own insurance stories.






We hope Orrana Cunningham's death won't be in vain, and no other Aetna policyholder will go through what she did.

H/T: Twitter, NBC News, CNN

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