Health

College Student Fighting Rare Cancer Also Battles Insurance Company (Video)

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

Manny Alvarez, 23, is facing more challenges than the average student at Florida International University. Last year, the Miami, Florida, native was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma and now he’s battling his insurance company to help cover his treatment.

“It’s a very rare cancer and the doctors pretty much told me it’s about as rare as getting hit by lightning,” he told CBS Miami (video below).

Dr. Breelyn Wilky, a sarcoma specialist and Alvarez’s doctor at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, added: “There’s less than 100 cases diagnosed every year in the United States.”

The cancer is so rare there isn’t a standard treatment, but doctors were able to kill Alvarez’s tumor cells after he had surgery to remove a growth from his knee using a drug cocktail.

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Doctors want to see if the combination will shrink the tumors in his body. “We don’t know for sure that just because it works in a test tube it’s going to work in a person,” said Wilky. “All we’re asking is just a little bit of time to try it.”

Wilky said Florida Blue, Alvarez’s insurance company, won’t pay for the $266,000 treatment. “I provided them with the data. Unfortunately because these drugs are not approved for sarcoma they were unable to provide coverage,” she said.

Florida Blue, a Blue Cross Blue Shield franchise, said in a statement:

“At times, our members and/or their physicians inquire about the use of experimental drugs or drugs that have not been adequately tested and approved for a particular use. Florida Blue’s team of physicians conducts a thorough review of the proposed treatment. Based on their medical expertise and scientific evidence on the effectiveness of the treatment, they either approve or deny the request.”

The statement went on to discuss their approval and appeals process. Wilky said she has appealed the decision, and will try again alongside Alvarez’s family.

“I think we’ll find a way,” said Alvarez. “That’s been my whole process in the year and a half since I’ve been diagnosed. I think there’s always a way I’ve just got to find it.”

Alvarez is optimistic. "I’ll overcome it... I’m still running," he told NBC Miami. 

Alvarez’s friends have banded together to help raise money through the CrowdRise crowd-funding site. So far they’ve raised more than $86,000, although that’s less than one-fourth of the $350,000 goal.

Sources: CBS Miami, NBC Miami, CrowdRise

Image via CBS Miami