(NEW YORK) — Arijit Guha, an Arizona State University graduate student who successfully tussled with health insurance giant Aetna over his medical bills last year, has died at 32, according to a close friend.
His wife, Heather Ehlers, created a Facebook page in tribute to his life, remembering him as a “rabble rouser, do-gooder, mustache enthusiast.”
“His life was one of love, optimism, joy, humor, and compassion, and this page is to celebrate that life,” she wrote.
Guha returned from a trip to India last year with a stomach ache and only one month later learned he had stage-4 colon cancer. Aetna agreed to pay full coverage for his treatment, but the aggressive cancer returned in the fall.
“He ran out of treatment options,” the close friend said. “He’d been in hospice care for many months.”
Guha died at home, Ehlers said.
“My heart is aching, but the pain is eased a bit knowing that he has the support of such an amazing community of people, so many of whom have never met him,” she said on the tribute page Monday.
After getting his tough diagnosis, Guha faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
He had a policy under the university’s health plan for which he paid $400 a month out of pocket, but its carrier, Aetna, had an annual ceiling on payouts. After surgery and chemotherapy, he had exhausted the lifetime $300,000 limit.
(The Affordable Health Care Act has since eliminated lifetime limits, but then, it did not include student health plans.)
Outraged, Guha turned to Twitter and other social media to make his case.
But in August, 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,” Bertolini said on his Twitter account. “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!”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Brianna Owczarzak and Rachel McCrary, CNN
Ruth Brown, Idaho Press-Tribune
Tamara Vaifanua, KSTU
Susie East, CNN