Tag Archives: Nick Columbo

CNA Forces Insurer to Buckle, Provide Life-Saving Care for Sick California Teen

The CNA has been in the headlines for other reasons lately, but I don’t think anyone can discount the incredible activism they have engaged in on behalf of patients being denied life-saving medical treatment.  Word now comes of another victory against the “murder by spreadsheet” insurance industry who felt like saving a kid’s life wasn’t good for business.

In the face of a national campaign on behalf of Nick Colombo, insurance giant PacifiCare has reversed its decisions and agreed to critically needed cancer treatments for the 17-year-old from Placentia, Calif.  The decision came after the company was overwhelmed by calls organized by Nick’s friends and family, along with RNs from the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, and netroots activists.

Over 100 of Nick’s classmates, friends of the family with their young children, and nurses protested in front of the insurance company headquarters this morning to demand that the approval be put in writing, which a PacifiCare representative, surrounded by T.V. cameras, and  promised to do.

“I am extremely happy about PacifiCare’s reversal, said Ricky Colombo, Nick’s 19-year old brother.  “The goal was to get treatment for Nick, and CNA/NNOC and other allies helped us with that.  We decided to go through with the rally in order to get their decision on the record and make sure they back up their words-and also because there are thousands of others in similar situations who can’t get the care they need.  We feel blessed to have this community supporting our family.”

In the fight for universal health care, all sides of the debate on the left are going to be instrumental.  The CNA’s tenacity and effectiveness in organizing “patient revolts” like this is very valuable, particularly to show the inequities in the current broken health care system.  Activists shut down PacifiCare’s phone system on multiple occasions before they capitulated.

To beat the powerful interests that want to maintain the status quo you’re going to need every activist and every strategy you can find.  And we’re going to win this fight, one patient at a time.

Another Insurance Company Seeks to Deny Lifesaving Care to a California Teen

It’s been just three months since Nataline Sarkisyan was killed by her health insurance company, CIGNA. Today the California Nurses Association and Eve Gittelson, aka “nyceve” at Daily Kos, bring us the story of another Southern California teen whose lifesaving treatment is being denied by an insurer – in this case, PacifiCare/United Health.

It’s unconscionable that in the United States in 2008, one has to organize protests in order to save a life. But here we are. From the CNA’s Guaranteed Healthcare website, where there are dozens of similar stories:

This is Nick’s older brother, Ricky, and I want to ask all of you for a huge favor. Our insurance company, PacifiCare, denied Nick to go to Kansas City for a special treatment of radiation for his cancer (this could save his life). Nick has suffered with cancer for 4 years of his life and he has exhausted every avenue to get better, but nothing worked. This is our last effort and this procedure has worked before with people in Nick’s situation. I think it is our duty to stand up for Nick and tell PacifiCare that what they are doing is wrong.

I am putting together a demonstration in front of the PacifiCare building at 5701 Katella Ave Cypress, CA 90630. Tuesday, March 25th, at 10:00 a.m. We are getting the media to step in and put pressure on (kcal9 and newspapers).

If we can at least get 300 people there I know they will have to say something about it. I know that my brother isn’t the only one suffering because of America’s poor healthcare system.

If you guys know anyone else that is suffering because of this, have him or her come out too. We need to let not only PacifiCare but America know that what they are doing is wrong and we need change.

Thank all of you so much.  

Ricky Colombo

From Eve’s diary at dKos:

Here are the emails I received from the California Nurses Association.

Just received a call from Ricky Columbo.  His brother Nick has cancer, and the treatments thus far have been ineffective.  The docs recommend cyberknife. Insurance won’t pay.

   He is organizing a protest outside the Pacifica Care building in Cypress, CA next Tuesday at 10.  He heard CNA did this kind of thing, and would like CNA to come and support the effort.  He says he has already rallied a bunch of people to come to it, thinks there is going to be a big crowd.

   He has also spoken with Dave Lopez at Channel 9, who is supposedly covering it.

Here’s another just received:

Just spoke to the young man, Ricky, 19.  Nick, this boy with Ewing’s Sarcoma (bone cancer) is only 17 – The mother works long hours preparing taxes for people and cares for the son before she leaves; the father then comes home earlier in the day to care for his son.

   They have had a local TV reporter to their home to interview Nick and are hoping to get more attention to push PacifiCare.

   Donna Smith

   Communications Specialist

   California Nurses Association

The contact information is PacifiCare at 714-828-1821 or Tyler Mason, the UnitedHealth/Pacificare spokesperson at 714-226-3530.

More info and background below.

At issue is a procedure known as “cyberknife.” I’m not a doctor, so I won’t pretend to know what exactly this involves. But the treatment is not considered surefire, although it is believed that it’s Nick’s best hope for survival. There is some dispute about whether or not the treatment is “experimental” and one Kossack who called PacifiCare was told this:

Just called and talked to Tyler Mason, the spokesguy…

He said that Nick Colombo’s claims were reviewed by USC and Stanford (which developed cyberknife).  Both hospitals said that Nick was not a good candidate for the procedure.  He also said that California regulators reviewed the request.  He said that the family found a doctor in Oklahoma who holds out some hope for cyberknife and they are pinning their hopes on this.

Poor Msson was upset at the 100s of calls he was getting and didn’t know where they were coming from or why.  🙂

I don’t doubt that Mason is spinning the facts and that there is more to the story.   I also think that Pacifica should pay for the procedure even if only one doctor says that it could help.   But I thought I should post Mason’s response.

And California Nurses Shum had this to say about the dispute between Nick’s doctors and PacifiCare:

For now, we have a compelling case with an important point: the medical decisions of this youth have been compromised by the system we have let him fall into.  For now, we can save one person shortchanged by the industry–and hope that his story will inspire the changes that all of us need.

At the end of the day, none of us can truly unwind the medical disagreement here: Nick’s doctors vs. PacifiCare’s.  But we can all see that Nick’s care decisions are taking place in an environment where PacifiCare’s profits are valued as much as his life, and we can never trust the results.

I think that’s an excellent response to PacifiCare’s attempt to muddy the waters. Many doctors dislike the insurance system partly because it limits their ability to provide care to their patients in this way (and it doesn’t help that insurers routinely stiff doctors on reimbursements).

Ultimately this is another example of why it is such a bad idea to have insurance involved in the delivery of basic health care at all. That’s not to say that government-run single-payer care would not have limits on what it could provide. But it would also not have the profit motive that leads insurers like Cigna and PacifiCare to coldly allow a young patient, who is insured, to die.

In Canada, for example, when there aren’t enough beds in town for a patient, the provincial health care authority will fly a patient to a place where there ARE enough beds, at no cost to that patient. In France the government health provider ensures that a sick child gets the full range of treatment he needs to live.

In America, however, we have this:

Hospitals Rank UnitedHealth/PacifiCare “Worst” Insurance Company in Nation

The Minnetonka, Minn.-based insurer received an “unfavorable” opinion from 91% of the hospital executives who responded, while 8% gave it a “favorable” rating. United owns PacifiCare of California.

California investigates 100,000 claims processing problems by Pacificare

UnitedHealth/Pacificare Looking at 13% Growth

   UnitedHealth Group Inc., the largest U.S. health insurer, is poised to reach its forecasts of 13 percent profit growth this year and next, even after being accused of cheating customers by New York’s attorney general.

Former CEO of UnitedHealth had to surrender ***$620***million in pay for options backdating scandal

And PacifiCare was fined for its claims denial problems…a paltry $3.5 million:

Pacificare fined $3.5 million

“This is off the scales in terms of severity. We rarely see so many complaints,” said state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. “I simply will not tolerate shoddy claims practices.”

Stories like Nick Colombo’s and Nataline Sarkisyan’s show us just how dire the state of health care in America has become, just how much we need root and branch reform – single-payer reform. With the failure of the pro-insurance industry mandate plan back in January, the initiative now seems to be with the advocates of single-payer care. Protest actions such as this will not only help save the life of a SoCal teen, but will help save many more lives as they hopefully become the basis of a broader single-payer movement.

It’s horrific that it takes a teenager facing death for us to see just how deeply flawed the health insurance concept has become in America. But, here we are. Let’s hope that PacifiCare does the right thing for Nick Colombo, and that WE can do the right thing and start working to ensure that all Americans have guaranteed access to affordable health care whenever and wherever they need it.

A full list of contact info, from nyceve:

You can also call this guy:


Tyler Mason, 714-226-3530–spokesperson

[email protected]

Main #: 714-952-1121

Then, you can move on to investor relations:

UnitedHealth Group

P.O. Box 1459

Minneapolis, MN 55440-1459

Ph. (800) 328-5979

Investor Relations Contact:

Cheryl Mamer

UnitedHealth Group


9900 Bren Road East

Minnetonka, MN 55343

Ph. (800) 328-5979

Fax (952) 936-1819

[email protected]

Here’s contact information for Pacificare:

Contact Information

Telephone Numbers

Main Telephone Number: 1-800-624-8822

Hearing Impaired (TTY): 1-800-442-8833