Cancer-Stricken Student Convinces Aetna CEO To Pay Off His Medical Bills Via Twitter

Talk about the power of social media — one graduate student battling Stage IV colon cancer in Arizona found out his Aetna health insurance plan had exceeded his $300,000 limit.He took to Twitter to express his frustration as his medical bills continued to grow and it turns out someone very influential was listening — the CEO of Aetna, who has subsequently agreed to pay “every last penny” of the man’s medical expenses and agrees that the healthcare system is broken.

Arijit, 30, found out that what he thought was a stomach bug contracted on a trip to India was actually Stage IV colon cancer. And although his $400 per month student insurance policy seemed generous, he had already exceeded its cap after surgery and chemotherapy, with more treatment to go, reports ABC News. Lifetime caps are still in place on student plans, even as they have been eliminated in other plans under the Affordable Healthcare Act.

So he jumped into a social media campaign to rally others to his cause, and caught the eye of Aetna CEO Mark T. Bertolini last week. Bertolini tweeted directly to Arijit and promised to pay “every last penny” of his medical bills.

“The system is broken, and I am committed to fixing it,” Bertolini tweeted. “I am glad we connected today and got this issue solved. I appreciate the dialogue no matter how pointed. I’ve got it and own it!”

Understandably, Arijit is pretty stoked.

“I am incredibly pleased and in shell shock and trying to figure out what just happened. It’s a huge relief,” he told ABC News.

Bertolini has experienced his share of healthcare issues — his son was diagnosed at 16 with a rare and often fatal lymphoma, and he himself was disabled in a ski accident.

Arijit had managed to raise $120,000 himself by selling T-shirts with his campaign slogan, “Poop Strong,” a tongue-in-cheek nod to Lance Armstrong’s “Live Strong.” He says he’s now going to donate all of that money to cancer charities in Arizona, now that Aetna is footing his bill.

Arijit is in remission now, but any future treatments he needs will be covered under his student plan, which now has a lifetime limit of $1 million.. An Aetna spokeswoman says the company will cover his costs through the end of the plan year.

“While we are pleased to have found a solution for our member, we recognize that there is much more work to be done to fix the problems in our health care system,” she said in a statement. “We are committed to reforms that make the system work better for everyone.”

“I take it day by day,” Arijit said. “It’s quite likely that I’ll have chemo again if [the cancer] pops up again. But I feel really good and I’m looking good.”

So keep tweeting your case if you think you’ve got one — you never know who might actually be paying attention.

Aetna CEO and 30-Year-Old Bond Over Staggering Cancer Bills [ABC News]


Edit Your Comment

  1. who? says:

    I’m glad it’s working out for Arjit. I’m even more glad that he’s in remission.

    Two of my good friends got cancer during the first half of this year, and both are going to end up with medical bills that would have topped out the policy limits that our company provided insurance had before Obamacare. But the “crappy”, high deductible Obamacare policies that we have now have annual out of pocket caps, and no lifetime caps….so each friend is out $6k, but the rest is covered. Even the bone marrow transplant is fully covered.

  2. PragmaticGuy says:

    According to the new law that just went into effect there can be no lifetime limits any longer so this “generosity” may have something to do with it. As for the health care system being broken, not true. If it was, then Arjit wouldn’t be in remission today. It may be expensive but I suspect many lives are saved because we don’t ration care.

    • Sunflowers says:

      Are you kidding? Putting lifetime caps on treatment is, in effect, rationing treatment. When health insurance companies can kick people off for getting sick, or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, they are denying people the right to get treatment, unless they are wealthy or just accept being in medical debt for the rest of their lives. These companies can decided arbitrarily if they want to cover a treatment or a procedure. And unfortunately for the guy in the story, he got sick before the lifetime caps were eliminated under the Affordable Care Act, and the only way he got them waived was because he got into a Twitter spat with Aetna’s CEO. Most people won’t be so lucky.

      • PragmaticGuy says:

        Denying coverage for a pre-existing condition is no different than denying collision coverage for your car AFTER you’ve been in an accident. It may suck but it’s fair. But not companies can’t do that either if you’re under 19.

        • who? says:

          In what way is it “fair” that someone who needs health insurance can’t get it? Being unhealthy isn’t at all the same thing as being a bad driver, so your analogy doesn’t work. You can learn to drive better. If you’re already sick, it isn’t that easy to learn to be healthy.

        • aerodawg says:

          There you go, acting as if insurance is a contractual assignment of risk or something crazy like that. It should be entirely possible to insure for something that’s already happened and have it cost less than paying out of pocket!

        • BelleSade says:

          It’s not fair when it involves people’s health. Being poor or middle class shouldn’t be the reason why you need to end getting medical care.

        • Joedragon says:

          but it’s like saying with per-existing conditions oh got a jiff lube oil change 5 year ago and now we will cover you being hit by a other driver running a red light

        • Snapdragon says:

          The US system is definitely broken. Bureaucrats and paper-pushers get to decide your fate–not doctors. The majority of all bankruptcies filed in the US (~60%) are due to medical expenses. What isn’t broken about that?

          Comparing pre-existing conditions of a human being to a car post-collision is callous at best. I sincerely hope you are never afflicted with a costly chronic ailment over which you have no control.

          • PragmaticGuy says:

            I have chronic ailments….had a heart attack and have HBP. But I had no worries because I had insurance at the time. For people who have these high medical bills Medicaid usually steps in and you and I end up paying their bills. So, if you don’t have insurance someday I’ll be paying your med bills and you know something….that’s not fair either.

            • Kaniac says:

              I (or someone like me) is probably paying *your* med bills right now. I am young and healthy and have never had a serious (expensive) health problem. When I make my monthly insurance payments but never receive any coverage for treatments, I am subsidizing your care (or the care of others like you.) That’s how insurance works. Everyone pays in a bit so that the unlucky few who have really high expenses get covered.

              If you’d paid out of pocket for *all* your care, it’d be a different story. But since you freely admit you didn’t, unless you want to mail me (or the me’s like me on your plan) a check to cover the payments we’ve made for your benefit, please stop complaining about having to help others. Bad “karma” at best, and ridiculously hypocritical at worst.

        • Red Cat Linux says:

          That isn’t pragmatic… that’s insane. Some people have conditions that are long term. If they have to switch insurance because of a change in employment, or because their employer changes insurance carriers, their disease does not suddenly go away.

          You can fix a collision and be done with it. You can’t say the same of a human being who requires medical care. But we aren’t talking about the arm you broke before you got Insurance XYZ – long term maintenance care is considered pre-existing. It could be high blood pressure, lupus, allergies, blood disorders, diabetes, or a device that helps you function that needs to be replaced every so often.

          • PragmaticGuy says:

            If they switch insurance as long as they have continuous coverage any claims can’t be denied so before you state something you need to know what you’re talking about. We’re talking about the people who’ve not had coverage and then they get sick and all of a sudden they dig up the money to get insurance because it’s cheaper than paying out of pocket and if you don’t think that will drive up costs for everyone you’re sadly mistaken.

        • RvLeshrac says:

          The problem is that your car can be replaced for $10,000.

          How much does it cost society to replace your life?

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      The fact we can put colon cancer into remission in no way proves that there aren’t huge problems with the medical industry in general in the United States.

    • Oh_No84 says:

      We do ration care every day in the US.
      Where are you getting the fantasy that insurance companies and hospitals do not ration care???

    • Chuft-Captain says:

      Is your life really any better when you have to live the rest of it under crushing debt and constant hounding by debt collectors and creditors, all because you had something completely outside your control happen?

  3. aerodawg says:

    “”We are committed to reforms that make the system work better for everyone.”

    Translation. WE ARE SOOOOO HAPPY THAT A PILE OF NEW “customers” ARE BEING FORCED TO BUY OUR PRODUCT NOW, WHETHER THEY WANT TO OR NOT! Time to make some $%*(&#$ money boys!

  4. Kaniac says:

    Great news for a great person.

    Kind of horrifying that he spent so many months going to the farmers market, building websites, and organizing fundraisers and charity events for his own cause though. I (a healthy person finished with my degree) can’t imaging finding the energy for all that; this guy is a force. Amazing that one person (with help from many friends) was able to accomplish so much.

    As far as I know, he’s still collecting donations. Any donations received now are going to other cancer patients who might have weaker social networks but are just as much in need of care and financial support. The t-shirts are extremely flattering (seriously), so pick one (or a few) up:

    Congrats, Guha.

  5. Draw2much says:

    Arijit was a genius in his own way. Not only did he have cancer, but he was battling through the treatment plans too, and he still somehow managed to find the energy to raise money for himself! And then to be so good at social media that he got all his medical bills paid for.

    Oh, and he’s donating the money he raised to a charity.

    Wow! I’m super impressed with this guy. He never gave up! GOOD FOR YOU, SIR! :D

  6. z4ce says:

    My sister had a daughter born with CDH. The doctors here told here there was little no chance of survival. After her own research, she found a doctor in FL that had %90+ success rate with even dire cases of CDH. After deciding to use the doctor, her insurance told her that her “out-of-network” coverage was basically worthless because they didn’t have a contract with the hospital.

    Attempting to get them to create a contract was seemingly impossible. Until… the local news team did a story on her. 1hr later.. the insurance company called.. and they made a contract with the hospital.

    The insane thing is, the treatment in our own town would have been even more costly (million+ vs about 300k), but they just didn’t care enough to contact the hospital and setup a contract that didn’t even take a days worth of time. Luckily due to the local media (KMOV STL), my niece is alive and healthy today… Moral of the story: if you need an insurance company to do anything, the only solution is media.

  7. Jane_Gage says:

    According to his blog he was trying to avoid bankruptcy, if the CEO didn’t step up shouldn’t he have racked up the bills and pursue that as an option?

    • Kaniac says:

      That was my question too, so I asked an expert I know. (I hope she won’t mind if I share her answer here.) She said:

      “The problem with the bankruptcy strategy is that it has zero connection to getting medical care. You can’t go to the chemotherapy place and say, “I’m bankrupt, give me free care.” If getting free care were as easy as declaring bankruptcy, everyone would do it if they were facing gigantic medical bills. Also, the strategy seems to assume that he can finish his treatments without his providers realizing his insurance has run out, and then declaring bankruptcy so he won’t have to pay them. I seriously doubt that will be the case.”

      So, med. bankruptcy might work if he were already “cured”, but given that he’s going to need continuing care it wouldn’t work for him or other patients like him.

      • Jane_Gage says:

        I know the ER is the last place you want to be if you have cancer, but don’t they have to treat you? Or is chemo considered elective because you’re not bleeding out right that second? I guess if that’s not an option it’s a death sentence.

        • Kaniac says:

          As far as I know you can’t get chemo in an ER…

          Alan Grayson says, ” I ask them [Republicans like Rick Santorum] to show me an emergency room that will provide chemotherapy to a cancer victim. There isn’t one.”

        • Lt. Coke says:

          The way the poor man’s insurance works (emergency room care; also known as “Fuck you and your easily-treatable disease, I need that money for designer purses) is if you are in immediate danger of death or serious injury, the hospital has to treat you. Otherwise, they’ll basically do a checkup and toss you out for wasting their time.

          In diabetic shock? A few injections of insulin and off you go. Cancer? Ibuprofen prescription. Having a heart attack? That’s when they are required to help you; the rest is just them being nice.

          The best part is, they’ll bill you later, and it may or may not bankrupt you. The system is broken, in an amazing number of ways.

  8. Press1forDialTone says:

    That CEO did a nice thing and he will be asked to 100,000
    other nice things very shortly. In fact, twitter requests to him
    to do another nice thing is probably the reason Twitter will
    crash shortly.

  9. scott429 says:

    I’m an Aetna individual policy customer. At first I was impressed with Bertolini for stepping up.

    Then I recalled the check I received from Aetna PA last week, representing 13% of the total premiums I paid last year. They missed the Obamacare “Medical Loss Ratio” standard by 13%. The MLR requires ins. cos. to spend at least 80% of premiums received on direct health care services, no more than 20% on admin. overhead, and they have to rebate the diff. if they miss the target.

    Mr. Bertolini needs to step up his medical spending, or start cutting some bonuses, in a much bigger way than a one-off PR stunt.

    • Jane_Gage says:

      I got a letter to that effect from my provider. No word yet from my union if they will cut a check or put it towards next year, which is also an option.

  10. baristabrawl says:

    Why does the picture look like the guy in the bed has a boner?