About a year and a half ago, Danni Gilbert was diagnosed with stage four metastatic colon cancer. What was different about Danni than the majority of people receiving this diagnosis is that she was in her mid-30s, a mother of two young kids and a teacher. In the midst of her third chemotherapy treatment. a study was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology showing that the addition of Bevacizumab, a drug used in early stage chemotherapy had positive effects on patient survival. Danni’s oncologist recommended this treatment for her, and her insurance company denied her the treatment calling it “experimental.” (the study incidentally was conducted over the course of two years from 2006-2008). When Danni and her family tried to negotiate that they would pay for a portion of the treatment, Blue Cross of Idaho (her insurer) further cut her treatment benefits, increasing the monthly cost of her therapy to over $22,000 per month (Thankfully, through diligent advocacy this decision to rescind all benefits was reversed yesterday).
This isn’t a unique story, but it’s important for me because Danni Gilbert is my cousin.
Blue Cross ironically was formed as a plan for teachers guaranteeing them 21 days of hospitalization for $6 per year. It has morphed into a loose umbrella of for-profit and non-profit medical plans at state and regional levels. Fitch estimates that Danni’s insurer, Blue Cross of Idaho’s statutory net earnings last year were $57 million. Danni’s treatments cost $6,000 per month out-of-pocket – so for each treatment that Blue Cross of Idaho denies, they profit .005% of last year’s earnings. The average teacher in Mountain Home, Idaho makes a little shy of $50,000 a year, so presumably Danni and her husband James (also a teacher) could pay for twenty treatments a year if they didn’t have the burden of having to pay for their home, food and other usual expenses for a family of four.
Forget for a moment the cruelty of denying a person cancer treatment when keeping a surplus of $57 million. Forget the fact that Danni’s age is a very positive indicator for survival. Forget the fact that Blue Cross of Idaho has donated over $150,000 in the last few years to political campaigns, and has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in philanthropic giving. Simply consider the impact to Danni’s family.
If my wife were diagnosed with cancer, I would spend every resource that we had available to help her survive. If an insurance company put me in the position where I had to determine when to give up, I couldn’t. How could I look in my kid’s eyes and tell them that I didn’t do everything I could for their mother to live? How could I say that I love my wife more than anything in the world and then make a cold, pragmatic decision based upon finances? It’s sickening to even consider, yet this is the position that James and Danni are in (Danni wrote a heartbreaking journal entry entitled “How much is a month worth?” which discusses the turmoil with the insurance company and her perspective of the experience).
There are many conflicting beliefs about what happens when we die, and I don’t purport to have any truth to share about them. But one thing that I believe to be true is our legacy on this earth is the love that we share with other people. By that standard, Danni Gilbert has lived a rich life. I’m confident that Danni has a lot more life to live and love to share. Danni’s kids deserve every opportunity to experience their mother’s love for as long as possible. Danni’s husband James deserves the opportunity to spend the lifetime that he promised her with her. Danni’s story resonates because it exposes how vulnerable we are to outlying events, and how out of touch our priorities lie when an insurance company can make record profits while denying patients prescribed treatment to live.
I’m not big on asking for stuff, but if you’ve read this far I would ask you consider sharing Danni’s story with your network of connections, sending a tweet to Blue Cross Idaho (Danni’s insurance company) and/or Genentech the manufacturer of the chemotherapy drug that Danni and her husband are being asked to pay for out of pocket, signing the online petition that Danni’s friend set-up on change.org, or all of the above if the spirit moves you. I sincerely thank you for everything you do to tell her story, and to help give her the best opportunity to survive her cancer.
Sign the petition for Danni on change.org