Leaving Artists (and others) to Die–Saylor White, Candye Kane, and Paul Williams

Last Sunday I attended a benefit concert and auction to raise money to help defray medical expenses incurred by the talented and hard-working musician and songwriter Saylor White, who is insured by the Aetna Medicare Advantage Plan, is suffering from spinal cancer. Saylor’s doctors recommended surgery to relieve the pain and, with luck, remove the tumor, but Saylor’s insurance company refused to cover the surgery. Saylor has many friends and admirers who rallied around him and did whatever they could to help. After the benefit, Saylor posted the following on his public Facebook profile:

“It will be a few days before we can deal with all the benefit information. I am sorry there is so much information and it is taking a lot of people to collect it all, but it really boils down to this: On Feb 17 my doctor told me I had a tumor, and malignant cancer in my spine. Since then I have never been treated for the cancer or the damaged spine. On the 17 of Feb. I could walk to appointments. I no longer can walk without someone else’s help, and my wife cannot pick me up. We have done [what] we can to get treatment. We do not know what to do now because we officially have no treating physician. Thanks for all the amazing support. We feel blessed but we, and you all have done all you can do–the help will have to come from some other place.”

Saylor’s many friends and admirers will attest to the hard work he has done throughout his life. There is simply no justification for treating a working and decent person with such inhumanity. Of course, Saylor is correct that he is blessed to have so many people supporting him. Many people in his situation suffer in isolation and despair. How can we live in a country that claims to be civilized, developed, or free and allow this kind of unnecessary suffering to continue? We cannot. We must face the barbarism of our current system and work to change it.

This information is disheartening enough, but when I returned from the benefit I saw that friends and admirers of blues singer, Candye Kane, had a benefit on the same day as Saylor’s to cover her medical costs, and her future is uncertain. Candye expressed her gratitude on her Facebook page as well:

“Thank you so much to all of you for your ongoing support and thanks to all who attended and played the benefit last night at the Belly Up Tavern. I can’t even believe how many people care about me.”

And it is true, many do love her and support her. It shouldn’t be necessary for her friends and followers to do this, but I am glad they can and will. Still, I think of the many who spend their lives in more obscure kinds of work. Does justice require that we work hard, buy insurance, and also be popular? Must we punish those who fail to develop vast social networks of emotional and financial support? Our system is as absurd as it is unjust.

Finally, last night I read the latest installment of a blog by Cindy Lee Berryhill, who is a musician and wife of rock journalist and biographer Paul Williams, who suffers from dementia resulting from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident. (For anyone interested in caregiver narratives, Cindy’s blog provides and excellent example.) Paul now requires full-time residential care. Though he and Cindy have both worked and made great contributions to our society (I really want to emphasize this theme), Paul’s care is too expensive to be borne by most working people. On her Facebook page, Cindy explains that the California Medicaid program enables her to keep him in care so long as she does not make more than $2,200/month. In order to make sure she meets all requirements, however, she hires a lawyer to maintain her paperwork and ensure she does not run afoul of the requirements. In order to have money to do this, she seeks help from friends and followers.

Is this really what we want to be as a society? Is this the best example the wealthiest country in the world can set? This is unjust and shameful. Our country is in crisis. It is time that we demand solutions.

If nothing else, we can enjoy some of the work of these fine musicians.

About ethicsbeyondcompliance

I hold a PhD in medical humanities with an major emphasis in ethics. I began teaching college-level ethics in 2000.
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8 Responses to Leaving Artists (and others) to Die–Saylor White, Candye Kane, and Paul Williams

  1. Lorna Ross says:

    It makes me sick. I feel disgusted and saddened by the people in denial who believe that everyone is treated in this country. Words fail me.

    • this is sad and yes this should not happen in america. i am so tired of the mean people and corporations and haters of human beings and big insurance companies who are just mean……greed is a horrifying experience in this country for the milliions of us artists who are not millionaires and when confronted with illness either are not treated of partially treated or turned away or have condition that will not allow us insurance. pre condition…..such as do you know now that if one has a blood pressure 128/80 one is pre hypertension. duh

  2. candye kane says:

    I agree that no one should have to suffer the injustice and indignity of having health care access denied them when they are faced with a life threatening illness. But your comment “In some ways, Candye is better off than Saylor, as she will have surgery today, May 2, for her pancreatic cancer. While she certainly suffers from her cancer, she has not endured the inhumanity and indignity of having her care denied by her insurance company” is a HUGE ASSUMPTION. Perhaps you should have asked me about my experience with the health care industry when I started battling cancer, before you wrote such a thing.

  3. Saylor White lost his battle to cancer yesterday, Saturday August 18th at 1:15AM…So glad he’s pain free, so sad to see him go.

  4. Guitarmeaux says:

    Musicians hold a very important place in our society but you wouldn’t know it by the way our system treats them.

  5. this is sad and should not happen in america. unfortunately we live amongst greedy corporations and people who want all of us to eat garbage. no one should be denied health care. we need more holistic medicine that includes our teeth and our eyes as a part of body. you think. sorry to hear about the sad stories. we have to change this. insurance companies have now created a really wierd pre condition if one blood pressure is 120/80 one is pre hypertension. so walla….a pre condition for denial of coverage. artists work hard to produce their art and unfortunately in today’s world not being negative but realistic are seen as eccentric and we need healthcare for all…….as a human being i pray that something happens to create a more peaceful appreciation of mankind.

  6. Melissa Puntenney says:

    This is touching and beautifully written and brings up so many memories of this battle with Aetna. I can distinctly remember asking some woman on the other end of the phone if she had a brother. She said she did. I asked her if she loved him. She said, “of course I do.” I then said, “Well, can I ask you something? Would it bother YOU if some insurance company was f___ing your brother around as bad as the Aetna is f___ing MY brother around?” The next morning, my sister-in-law received a tearful call from the receptionist or nurse at the doctor’s office — who had been previously approved to do the surgery and then Aetna canceled it 3 days before surgery because one of the doctor’s hospitals was “out of network.” His surgery was finally approved. Unfortunately, it was 10 weeks into this ordeal.

    I am so grateful for everything everyone BUT Aetna did for my brother — to support him, love him and his family through the past six months and one day and beyond. There are no words to describe how loved my brother felt during this time. We all felt it. My heart breaks for the families of Paul Williams and Candye Kane as they chart their course through the maze of bureaucracy otherwise known as “health care.”

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