Cancer Care Discrimination Alleged

Wednesday, January 31st 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — A phone technician with breast cancer sued his employer and health insurers for $2 million, saying he was denied adequate treatment because he is a man.

Nickolas Zervos, 50, said that Verizon New York Inc. would not cover a recommended treatment — a single cycle of high-dose chemotherapy followed by a blood stem cell transplant — though its insurance has allowed the same procedure for women.

His lawyer Steven G. Storch said there was no scientific reason to treat cancer in men differently than cancer in women.

Storch said Zervos cannot afford the $100,000 treatment himself. ``It's a tremendous burden just having this kind of diagnosis,'' he said.

Verizon spokeswoman Sharon Cohen-Hagar, said the decision not to cover the treatment was based only on clinical evidence. She said an independent reviewer agreed that the procedure would provide no proven benefit.

A second independent review of the decision should be completed later this week, she said.

Zervos, who lives in Brooklyn and was a technician for 30 years, was diagnosed last March and has undergone conventional chemotherapy, which was covered. He said in the lawsuit that the contested treatment was his best chance to survive but it must begin immediately or his cancer will spread.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Manhattan, also names Empire HealthChoice Inc., which covered Zervos' chemotherapy, and United Healthcare Co. Inc. Both insurers are part of the Verizon benefit structure.

Deborah Bohren, an Empire HealthChoice spokeswoman, said the company's policy is not to cover the procedure for breast cancer.

``While this therapy was once considered very promising, studies have shown it not to be as effective as traditional therapies,'' she said, adding that it is now believed to carry a higher mortality rate than other treatments.

Roger Cruzen, a spokesman for United Healthcare, said the company had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.

About 1,600 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, and about a quarter of them will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.


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