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Medical student receives fellowship award to study the role of race in insurance approval for psoriasis medications
Thomas Vasquez, M4, Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine

Medical student receives fellowship award to study the role of race in insurance approval for psoriasis medications

June 9, 2020 at 4:39pm

Thomas Vazquez, a fourth-year medical student at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM), is the recipient of a 2020 Alpha Omega Alpha (AΩA) Carolyn L. Kuckein Student Research Fellowship. The $6,000 award will allow him to study whether insurance companies are delaying the approval of biologic medications for patients of low socioeconomic status who have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

“Previous research has shown that patients of certain races tend to have more severe psoriasis than others. We are interested in determining if some races have more severe psoriasis because they have to wait longer to get certain expensive medications (biologics) approved by their insurance,” said Vazquez, who wants to be a dermatologist.

Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are autoimmune diseases caused by the body attacking itself—in this case, attacking its own skin and joints. More than 8 million Americans have psoriasis, and between 10 and 30 percent of people with psoriasis also develop psoriatic arthritis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Kim Kardashian is one of the most famous people to reveal being diagnosed with both conditions.

Several new biologics, medications made from living cells and not synthetic materials, have shown to be excellent and safe medications for the treatment of moderate to severe psoriasis, according to Vazquez.

“We believe that even when patients of different races have the same type of insurance, some races may wait longer for insurance approval of the medication their doctor prescribed,” said Vazquez.

His study will also try to determine if gender, income, age and type of insurance affect the time it takes to receive these medications. The project combines Vasquez’ interest in autoimmune skin diseases with the social determinants of health, one of the tenets of HWCOM’s mission.

AΩA is a national honor medical society whose members are elected for their scholarly achievement and professionalism. Members include medical school deans and Nobel Prize winners. Vazquez was inducted into the HWCOM AΩA Chapter earlier this year. He is the second HWCOM student to be awarded the AΩA research fellowship. Leah Cohen, MD'20, received the award in 2018.