Arijit, 31, is graduate student in Arizona who was diagnosed about a year and a half ago with stage IV colon cancer. He endured multiple surgeries, and grueling rounds of chemotherapy. Then, in February, 2012, the cost of his treatment exceeded the lifetime limit on his graduate student health plan, which is managed by Aetna.
His coverage was terminated. His cancer was not.
He launched what we cancer patients sometimes refer to as an internet lemonade stand: a site called Poop Strong (a light-hearted parody of "Livestrong"). At poopstrong.org, he invited well-wishers to make a donation or buy schwag, with all proceeds going to his healthcare.
But, big news today, as his pal Kirk Caron tells Boing Boing,
In the six months between when he was dropped and when he'll be picked up by another student health plan, he's been looking at well over $100K in medical bills for his treatments. In addition to updates about his own condition and the state of Poop Strong, Arijit's been tweeting (naturally) about the state of health insurance, and recently, Aetna got involved. The conversation (as Twitter convos tend to do) sort of spirals out from the main thread between Arijit and Aetna.
That's an understatement! Arijit ended up debating directly with the CEO of Aetna, Mark T. Bertolini. The tl;dr: Aetna, and Mr. Bertolini, agreed in the end to cover the full extent of bills that accrued since Arijit was dropped from insurance (about $118,000).
"The system is broken," said Bertolini. "I really am trying to fix it."
Arijit is redirecting all of the donations he received the University of Arizona Cancer Center Patient Assistance Fund and The Wellness Community (Arizona), to directly assist other people with cancer who cannot pay for the life-saving medical treatments they need.
I spoke with Arijit today, and will be publishing a transcript/audio of our conversation soon. He's a really cool guy, and he has some insights from this experience that I think everyone should hear. It looks like Arijit is covered, for now, but the system is still broken. The debate over health care costs has become a political football—but for people like me and Arijit and everyone else in America who isn't in the 1%, health care costs are literally a matter of life and death. No one should suffer or die because they can't afford medical treatment. It really is that simple.
Arijit's friend Jen Wang created a Storify of the twitter exchange between Arijit, Aetna's PR reps, and Aetna's CEO. You can read this below.
(Images courtesy Poop Strong / Arijit)