Hilda Sarkisyan Honors Wendell Potter At Ridenhour Prizes, Receives Rage For Justice Award
By: system
Jan 13, 2015

by Nune Alaverdyan nalaverd@gmail.com More than three years after the untimely death of her daughter due to insurance coverage denial, Hilda Sarkisyan presented the Ridenhour Book Prize to former CIGNA Insurance Group employee Wendell Potter. In 2007, Potter was Head of Corporate Communications at CIGNA, the company that denied Hilda’s daughter, Nataline Sarkisyan, the liver transplant that may have saved her life. After Nataline’s death, in May 2008, Potter left his position at CIGNA and devoted his life to unveiling the selfishness and cruelty of insurance corporations in America. On April 13th, he was honored at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. with the Ridenhour Book Prize for his book Deadly Spin, which details the deceit in the American insurance industry. Potter chose Hilda Sarkisyan to introduce him at the prestigious event because he claims it took an issue as grand and heart-breaking as Sarkisyan’s for him to realize that he needed to “walk away from a high-paying, but soul-killing job.” Sarkisyan took the opportunity to speak to a well-educated and passionate audience about the importance of health-care reform. She revealed that she felt a duty to help the United States by replacing the ERISA law with Nataline’s Law. The ERISA law disables people who are insured through their employers from taking their insurance company to court on account of coverage decision damages, even if those decisions result in death, as was the case with Nataline. Sarkisyan was the only presenter at the award ceremony who was described as a mother; the other presenters held governmental and professional positions. But her motherly sentiments led Sarkisyan to give a chilling introductory speech in front of people from all over the nation, people brought together by the common goal to fight in order to see truth and courage prevail. She spoke of how she would never forget the void CIGNA has placed onto her life by taking her daughter away from her. She condemned the insurance industry and their mission to gain as much profit as possible regardless of the people it harms. During a moment of silence when Sarkisyan’s tears kept her from continuing her introduction, the audience supported her with applause, and then she stated that she would not stop fighting health-care until she had defeated the ERISA law. In his acceptance speech, Potter also mentioned the ERISA law, stating that it “enables corporate America to get away with murder and…very few politicians have dared to try to change the law.” Despite the fear instilled in many politicians to question the 30 year-old law, Sarkisyan plans to overcome it. Hilda Sarkisyan’s persistence and devotion to her daughter has affected a countless number of people. Aside from the assembly of people touched by her story at the Ridenhour Prizes, Sarkisyan also caught the attention of Consumer Watchdog, an on-line media that reports on the rights and demands of American consumers. They contacted Sarkisyan and invited her to their annual Rage for Justice Awards ceremony where they celebrated her courageous battle against both CIGNA Insurance Group and the unfair nature of health-care in America. The ceremony took place on June 4th at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Sarkisyan was inducted into the Consumer Watchdog Hall of Fame. She was welcomed onstage by Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court, who shed light upon the fact that although Sarkisyan “endured terrible abuses at the hands of insurance companies,” she managed to turn her tragedy into a campaign for justice for the 132 million Americans who are also insured through private employers. In her acceptance speech, Sarkisyan expressed her desire that insurance companies put justice over profit for all insured patients, not only a select few. She explains that in Nataline’s case, there was the California Nurse’s Association, the Armenian Youth Federation, friends, relatives, and members of the community who participated in rallies and testimonies that pressured CIGNA to reverse their decision. Even without this pressure, Sarkisyan claims, we must reach a point in health-care where insurance companies choose to do what is right over what is financially beneficial. Sarkisyan’s strength and determination in passing Nataline’s Law was evident during her speech when, through her tears, she exclaimed, “CIGNA messed with the wrong mother.” Sarkisyan and her family will continue to fight legislation that denies patients the right to proper health-care coverage and in doing so, will always remember Nataline’s fight against CIGNA. This year, they commemorate Nataline’s death and celebrate what would be her 21st birthday with the 4th Annual Nataline’s Fashion Legacy, to be held on July 9th at Mercedes-Benz of Calabasas at 7:30 pm. To purchase tickets for Fashion Legacy, visit NatalineSarkisyan.com.