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A few tweets can make all the difference

Put yourself in this scenario: You’re a graduate student that has been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer when your university provided insurance stops paying your medical bills because you’ve reached your insurance plan’s cap. What do you do?

Well, Arijit Guha was in this exact predicament and he turned to Twitter to voice his frustration, and his insurance company’s chief executive responded.

The 31 year-old New York native was told he had cancer in February 2011. After a rigorous surgery doctors found the cancer had spread to his abdominal lining which left Guha with a colostomy, more surgeries and intense chemotherapy.

Guha was insured under an Aetna Student Health plan, which cost him $400 a month. The plan covered him fully until his treatment costs rang up more than $300,000. This cap stuck Guha with a  $118,000 medical bill.

According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, more than a million students are covered through college health plans. While the Affordable Care Act eliminates coverage caps, the rules are still being phased in and are not yet applicable to student health care.

So, when Aetna began to deny Guha claims, he sounded off on Twitter under the username @Poop_Strong on July 22.

@Aetna has now denied $118k in claims (in just 5 mos) since kicking me to the curb. Gotta preserve that $2 billion annual profit somehow.

After getting a generalized reply from a @AetnaHealth, Guha continued to publish his frustration on Twitter and included Aetna’s chief executives Mark T. Bertolini’s handle @mtbert, who himself is very active on the service.

Then a startling thing happened. Bertonlini responded to Guha directly.

We paid hundreds of thousands of $ already. A call is all it takes.

Guha replied:

Does that mean if I call you, you’ll graciously offer to pay my bills?

And followed up with:

@mtbert Do you think it’s morally justifiable to offer a flawed insurance product that doesn’t cover catastrophes?

Bertolini retorted:

@poop_strong Why do you think the premiums were so low? Don’t you look at your policy limits when you buy other insurance (auto)?

This reply angered Guha, but before he could reply a follower of his, @Amayo, jumped in with:

@mtbert I’m concerned that you don’t understnad how your industry works. ASU students aren’t given a choice on insurance plans

Another follower of Guha’s replied with:

@mtbert As a dad, if your kid was in school, got cancer & reached their lifetime cap, what advice would you give him?

After a few more heated comments directed at Bertolini began to spring up, mostly from Guha’s direct friends and family, Bertolini offered the following:

The system is broken. I’m trying to fix it.

That Friday, less than a week after the first frustrated tweet by Guha, Bertolini called Guha directly and agreed to cover the $118,000 in medical bills. More importantly, Aetna and the university now will offer a student plan for the 2012-13 academic year with no lifetime cap and a $2 million annual cap that will eventually be removed under the Affordable Care Act. The policy also covers preventive care and won’t deny individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Currently, Guha is on a break from his biweekly chemotherapy treatments after a successful procedure in April. He recently expressed his gratitude and a resolution to his financial problems on Twitter.

“Congrats Twitter hordes! @Aetna has agreed to cover my bills. Every last penny. Thanks, @mtbert, for listening.”