Cancer Patient Dies From HMO Delays, Husband Has No Remedy

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Phyllis Cannon – Oklahoma City, OK

Phyllis Cannon’s health insurer delayed her medically appropriate cancer treatment for three months. By that time her cancer had developed beyond treatment, and she died weeks later.

According to court records:

In 1991, Phyllis Cannon was diagnosed with acute myeloblastic leukemia. When she went into remission, her doctor urged that she undergo an autologous bone marrow transplant (ABMT). Yet her HMO delayed authorization for three months, by which time the cancer had returned and Mrs. Cannon could no longer benefit from the treatment.

Her HMO claimed that Cannon’s bone marrow transplants would be "experimental," yet this procedure was a covered benefit under Cannon’s policy. She died just weeks later.

Because Mrs. Cannon received health insurance through her employer, the ERISA loophole prevented the HMO from paying a price for its delay and gave Phyllis’ husband, Jerry Cannon, no remedy for his wife’s death.

Judge John Porfilio, of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal, noted the problem of ERISA’s broad preemption of remedies for wrongful death, stating that "Although moved by the tragic circumstances of this case, and the seemingly needless loss of life that resulted, we conclude that the law gives us no choice but to affirm" that Mr. Cannon has no remedy for his loss.

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