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Man Says Kaiser Business Model Includes Death

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Kaiser Foundation Health Plan refuses to pay for care necessary to save a man's life, he claims in court.

Jalal Afshar, 58, suffers from Castleman's disease, a rare condition known as lymphoproliferative disorder. The disease is not cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, but often leads to lymphoma and is treated with chemotherapy or radiation. He also suffers from a rare blood disorder that appears along with Castleman's disease, called POEMS syndrome.

Diagnosed in 2005, Afshar says he developed a growth in his abdomen in January 2012 and sought advice from his Kaiser oncologist, Dr. Iman Abdalla, who told him, "I don't know what to do with you," and that she had "run out of ideas and options" for his treatment, the complaint says.

She attributed his difficulty in breathing, edema in his limbs and stomach, and the growth in his abdomen to "middle-age fat" and a "sedentary lifestyle."

He then sought out a second opinion, ultimately traveling to Arkansas where he was seen by Dr. Frits van Rhee at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. Afshar began receiving chemotherapy on the advice of Dr. van Rhee who also planned to have stem cells collected for a future stem cell transplant. Kaiser, however, denied any coverage of the treatments, claiming Afshar could get the same treatments under the Kaiser plan.

Afshar twice appealed the decision over the phone because Dr. Abdalla had "already admitted that she did not know how to treat him, and given that all of the past treatment Kaiser had offered had been ineffective." Kaiser refused, causing Afshar to return to Los Angeles where doctors administered a 12-hour course of chemotherapy using a combination of drugs that were not the same as the ones used by Dr. van Rhee, according to the complaint.

By June 8, 2012 Afshar's legs were significantly swollen and his breathing had become more labored and difficult, according to the complaint. He developed a fever and his blood pressure dropped, leading to his admittance to the intensive care unit.

On June 13, Afshar's wife Maryam was told by doctors that his condition was "without hope" and that "there was nothing else they could do," according to the complaint.

A chaplain and a palliative care representative then visited Afshar in his room and told him they believed his case was hopeless, according to the complaint.

Afshar, however, refused to accept defeat, returning to Arkansas where he once again began receiving care from Dr. van Rhee. He has since amassed over $1.8 million in medical bills, which Kaiser refuses to pay.

Afshar has been under Dr. van Rhee's care since June 17, 2012.

"This action arises out of a deliberate strategy and business practice on the part of defendants to systematically deny medically necessary care that Kaiser is unable to provide itself," the complaint states. "Based on a consistent pattern and practice, defendants routinely deny medically necessary treatment requested by members' medical professionals on invalid and unjustified and unjustifiable grounds for the sole purpose of saving money and, ultimately, cause the premature death of members, thus relieving defendants of the continuing financial obligation to provide care and treatment to desperately ill people."

Afshar is suing for breach of contract, violations of California's Business and Professions Code and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Scott C. Glovsky and Danae A. McElroy, of Pasadena, represent the plaintiff.

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