(NEW YORK) — Arijit Guha, an Arizona State University graduate student, returned from a trip to India with a stomach ache and only one month later learned he had Stage IV colon cancer.
As tough as his diagnosis was at the age of 30, learning that his insurance company would place restrictions on paying for his cancer treatments was almost as gut-wrenching.
Guha had a generous policy under the university’s health plan for which he paid $400 a month, but its carrier, Aetna, had an annual ceiling on pay-outs. After surgery and chemotherapy, he had exhausted the lifetime $300,000 limit.
Although the Affordable Healthcare Act has eliminated lifetime caps, those requirements have not yet taken effect in student plans, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Outraged, Guha turned to Twitter and other social media to make his case, one that affects millions of Americans who face staggering medical bills.
But last week, Aetna CEO Mark T. Bertolini, a former paramedic who has had his own share of medical crises, tweeted directly with Guha and agreed to pay “every last penny” of his bills.
“The system is broken, and I am committed to fixing it,” said Bertolini on his Twitter account, according to the Arizona Republic, which first covered the story. “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!”
Guha, now 31 and in remission, told ABC News, “I am incredibly pleased and in shell shock and trying to figure out what just happened. It’s a huge relief.”
It turns out Bertolini and Guha have much in common.
In 2001, Bertolini’s then 16-year-old son son, Eric, was diagnosed with a rare and deadly lymphoma, according to a profile in the Hartford Courant. And in 2004, when he was president of Cigna, Bertolini was disabled after being nearly killed in a ski accident. He also eventually donated a kidney to help save his son.
Bertolini admitted the current healthcare system was “broke” and tweeted, “There is a lot to do to make it right.”
Meanwhile, Guha had raised $120,000 through T-shirt sales in his edgy campaign “Poop Strong,” which riffs on cancer survivor Lance Armstrong’s “Live Strong.” And now that Aetna has stepped in, Guha said he will donate all of it to three cancer charities in Arizona.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Wayne Drash and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Virginia Anderson, Kaiser Health News