By: Lauren Saccone
People who dismiss social networking sites as silly and superfluous should rethink their stance. An Arizona man suffering from colon cancer decided to air his grievances online. More significantly, he wanted to use the internet as a public forum to discuss the problems within the healthcare system. And the results of his efforts once again have proven the power of the online community.
Airjit Guha was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in early 2011. The 30-year-old graduate student luckily had insurance through his college, Arizona State. Unfortunately Aetna, his insurance company, has a lifetime cap of $300,000 in coverage. And after a year of intensive treatment, Guha had reached this limit. Unable to secure benefits and running out of options, Guha decided on an unconventional solution.
Guha launched Poop Strong, a website devoted to his illness (and also a humorous play on Live Strong, the cancer fighting nonprofit founded by Lance Armstrong). Guha blogged about his treatment and troubles he faced with the healthcare industry. He also sold merchandise in the hope of earning some revenue to cover his mounting medical bills. Guha managed to accrue $120,000 through Poop Strong, all of which went directly to paying the cost for fighting cancer. This allowed him to remain in chemotherapy. Meanwhile, his health bills rose to $118,000.
Guha then took directly to Twitter, contacting Aetna's official account. Aetna responded with automated platitudes and condolences. Unwilling to give up that easily, Guha and his friends continued to tweet the insurance provider. Soon, a real person was responding to Guha’s concerns. And shortly after that the CEO of Aetna, Mark Bertolini, was tweeting directly to Guha.
Over the course of two days, Bertolini, Guha, and Guha’s loyal followers discussed the situation, as well as debated the overall problems with America's healthcare. Originally hostile (Guha was asked why he had picked such a limited plan), Berlolini eventually agreed that Guha had valid points about the problems within the healthcare system. You can read their exchange in chronological order here. And on July 28th, Guha sent the following tweet: “Congrats, Twitter hordes! @Aetna just agreed to cover the full extent of my bills. Every last penny. Thanks, @mtbert, for listening!”
“I am glad we connected today and got this issue solved,” Bertolini replied via Twitter. “I appreciate the dialog no matter how pointed. I’ve got it and I own it! …This chapter is another step in the journey. The system is broken, and I am committed to fixing it.”
Aetna and the health department at Arizona State coordinated to ensure that Guha’s medical bills would all be paid off. And with his bills covered and his cancer currently in remission, Guha has plans for the proceeds of his Poop Strong site.
“Since I don’t need the money to cover my bills (thanks again, @mtbert!), all the money we’ve raised will now go to charity… I hope the Wellness Community, @AZCancerCenter, and @CCAlliance won’t mind getting some big checks from all the money I’ve raised.”
It's a happy resolution, but there are still millions of people struggling with crippling medical bills – a fact that Aetna, at least, is willing to admit after their dealings with Guha.
“While we are pleased to have found a solution for Mr. Guha,” Aetna said in an official statement, “we recognize that there is much more work to be done to fix the problems in our health care system. We are committed to reforms that make the system work better for everyone.” Hopefully Aetna – and other healthcare providers – will take these words to heart.
[Pic via Flickr - Manuel Iglesias]