Family of man starved for cancer treatment hope $200million verdict will spur change

The family of a Las Vegas man who was denied health insurance coverage for lung cancer treatment and then later died said Friday they hoped a civil verdict of 200 million dollars returned by a Clark County jury against their health insurance provider would cause significant change.

“Maybe it won’t happen to the next person,” Sandy Eskew, wife of the late Bill Eskew, said Friday. “Maybe they’ll change the way they do things. They just can’t do that. They don’t know any more than the doctors. It’s just wrong.

Relatives of Bill Eskew and his family’s two attorneys, Matthew L. Sharp and Doug Terry, said Eskew’s health issues began in the summer of 2015. He was playing golf with his son and a friend in northwest of Las Vegas when he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his arm after hitting his first shot of the day.

“He said, ‘I think I dislocated my elbow,'” his son, William Eskew Jr., recalled.

“He started sweating,” his son said. ” He suffered. I ran to get my truck, I lowered it. I got him into the truck and rushed him to the hospital.

What Bill Eskew thought was a dislocated elbow, however, turned out to be much worse.

“They took x-rays and they said, ‘No, it’s a pathological fracture from lung cancer,’ Sandy Eskew said. ‘We didn’t know he had lung cancer. It was a nightmare.”

Bill Eskew was determined to fight for his life, but around the same time, the family’s health insurance provider announced that it would no longer offer private health insurance. Thus, the family had to find a new supplier before January 1st. Sandy Eskew took on a third job to pay around $1,100 a month for a policy with Sierra Health and Life. She informed an insurance broker before the policy was taken out that Bill had lung cancer and the family was interested in undergoing a treatment known as proton therapy if he was a candidate.

Proton therapy treatment was eventually recommended by Eskew doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas because it can target the location of the cancer, Terry said, while causing less damage to the patient’s healthy tissue. Despite the recommendation, coverage was declined by Sierra Health.

“He was devastated,” Sandy Eskew said. “He didn’t understand why an insurance company knew more than his doctor…He asked me that question every day.”

The family said they had no choice but to have another type of radiation therapy, which caused extensive damage to Bill’s esophagus. What followed was a year of suffering as Bill could not swallow food or water without immense pain. Bill passed away in 2017, about a year into his treatment.

“It was awful,” Bill’s daughter Tyler Eskew said. “We saw him wither away.”

Provider to appeal

Sandy Eskew said she inquired about her new health insurance policy before getting it.

“They knew I was looking at proton therapy if he was a candidate,” Sandy said.

After her husband died, she hired her lawyers to find out how Sierra Health could have denied coverage. Sharp and Terry said they filed a lawsuit, then learned that Sierra Health had what Terry called a company medical policy that said it wouldn’t cover proton therapy for lung cancer, saying it didn’t. was not medically necessary.

“Sandy didn’t know when she bought the police,” Terry said.

The family sued in 2019 and won an initial $40 million verdict this month in Las Vegas District Court. The civil jury then awarded an additional $160 million in punitive damages to Sierra Health in District Judge Nadia Krall’s courtroom.

Sierra Health is a UnitedHealthcare company, part of the UnitedHealth group. The company plans to appeal, a spokeswoman said.

“We are disappointed with the jury’s verdict,” UnitedHealthCare spokeswoman Maria Gordon Shydlo said in an email. “The verdict and the damages awarded do not reflect the facts of the case or the laws that apply here,” she said.

Tyler Eskew said his dad was a loving man who was all about family. He treasured his grandchildren and loved living in Las Vegas. She and her brother said they hope the family’s litigation will lead to changes at Sierra Health.

“That’s why you get insurance,” Sandy said. “So you can have peace of mind. They’re supposed to take care of you.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at [email protected] To follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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