DENVER—After years of battling crippling premiums and agonizing deductibles, local resident Michael Haige finally succumbed this week to the health insurance policy that had ravaged his adult life.

A healthy Michael Haige and his wife, six months before his courageous struggle with health insurance began.

Haige, who had suffered from limited medical coverage for nearly a decade, passed away early Monday morning. According to sources, the 46-year-old was laid to rest at Fairplains cemetery, surrounded by friends, family members, and more than $300,000 of mounting debt.

"I miss Michael every single day, but at least he can finally rest now," said Sheila Haige, who watched as insurance rates ate away at her husband over time. "What Michael went through, the humiliating forms, the invasive background checks, the complete loss of dignity and hope—I wouldn't wish that kind of torture on anyone."

Once a healthy and happy father of two, Haige saw his life forever change seven years ago when health insurance professionals diagnosed him with a preexisting condition. As months passed and his line of credit continued to deteriorate, the former high school football coach would experience excruciating headaches and bouts of nausea every time another hospital bill arrived.

"My dad always seemed invincible, like there was nothing in the world that could hurt him," son Ryan Haige said. "But then, one night, I found him bent over a stack of UB-92 and HCFA forms, and he was crying. I'd never seen my father look so scared in all my life."

Added Ryan, "Making those payments each month—it was killing him."

While family members refused to look at Haige's insurance plan as a death sentence, it soon became clear that their loved one was facing the biggest fight of his life. Countless visits to doctors, claims adjusters, and loan officers proved futile, with Haige being told at every turn that his case was hopeless.

"They said there was nothing they could do for him, that modern medicine was powerless against this monster," Sheila Haige said. "Still, Michael never gave up. He kept saying that he was going to beat the odds, that he was going to find some way to get coverage."

According to an independent study released last month by the Mayo Clinic, health insurance is the nation's No. 2 cause of death, claiming the lives of some 400,000 Americans each year. A silent killer, health insurance often strikes without warning, its harmful and profit-based policies avoiding detection until it is far too late. Although the cruel bureaucratic disorder does not discriminate, statistics have shown that senior citizens, young dependents, and those woefully underemployed are most at risk.

"I can't tell you the number of patients I've had to deliver the bad news to over the years," said Haige's longtime family physician, Dr. Howard Silverman. "It's never easy to look someone in the eye and tell them it's going to have to be out-of-pocket. For most of these poor people, prayer is the only hope."

Toward the end of Haige's seven-year ordeal, family members said, the once loving husband and father had become an empty husk of his former self.

"I remember the last thing he ever said to me," said eldest son Mark Haige, holding a small picture of his father during happier times, before the endless battery of co-pays began. "He took my hand in his, and he said, 'Son, promise me you'll never sign up for a high-deductible, network-model HMO.'"

While still angry and in shock over Michael's premature passing, Sheila and her two children say the whole experience has taught them the importance of family.

"If Dad were still with us, I know he would want us to be here, at home, supporting Mom," Mark Haige said. "She really hasn't been doing so well ever since Bankers Life and Casualty denied her life insurance claim."