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Family of woman denied lifesaving cancer treatment by insurer awarded over $25 million

The family of an Oklahoma woman who died of cancer after her insurance carrier denied her coverage for a potentially life-saving treatment was awarded a $25.5 million settlement last Monday.

The verdict is believed to be the largest of its kind, CNN reports, with the jury in the case hopeful that their decision will help to save future lives.

In 2014, Orrana Cunningham was suffering from stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer. When medical professionals recommended that she receive proton beam therapy—which uses high energy protons instead of x-rays, and apparently comes without some of the daunting side effects of standard radiation—the cancer-stricken woman’s health insurer, Aetna, reported refused to cover the treatment.

Despite the woman’s appeals to undergo the therapy, Aetna denied coverage for the treatment, reportedly “calling the therapy investigational and experimental,” according to CNN.

Orrana’s husband, Ron Cunningham, did everything he could to raise money for the treatment Aetna had denied. The couple ended up refinancing their home, and set up a GoFundMe crowdfunding account in order to try and come up with $92,082.19, the cost of the treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. But it wasn’t enough—Orrana died May 30, 2015, “in part from a viral infection reached her brain,” according to the news station.

The husband said that his wife “wanted to make sure that it [the insurance denial] got out,” in an effort to prevent someone else from being denied potentially lifesaving treatment in the future.

“My wife, her goal, was to make this fight,” Ron Cunningham said, according to CBS News. “Her comment was, ‘If we can save one person and stop Aetna from doing what they traditionally do on every claim, it was worth the battle.'”

Jurors reportedly disagreed that the treatment was experimental, based on expert testimony.

Further, a presiding juror, Ann Schlotthauer, spoke of Orana as being “failed at every turn,” adding that jury members wanted the case to “make a statement.”

“We wanted to make a point and get their attention,” Schlotthauer stated. “I hope [the verdict] does result in huge changes. I hope it results in Aetna re-evaluating how they evaluate appeals and requests.”

[Feature photo: Orrana Cunningham/GoFundMe]