Patricia Zuniga is not just sick with worry. She fears cancer could be growing in her body after a surgery was abruptly cancelled to remove a tumor from her breast.
Zuniga’s health insurance fight has lasted more than three months. After Madigan Army Medical Center cancelled the surgery late January, she is still waiting to have the lump removed.
But it wasn’t until the 41 year old started noticing new symptoms that she decided to go public.
“Just not knowing, just feeling helpless and powerless, is the worst part,” said Zuniga. “And being put off and being told to wait to wait and to wait.”
Last December, a mammogram revealed she had a tumor in her breast. It wasn’t malignant, but doctors wanted it out.
“They don’t know how deep it is, what the blood supply is, they won’t know until they get in there,” said Zuniga. “That’s what the surgeon told me”
Her calendar shows a series of appointments leading up to a scheduled surgery on January 27 of this year. The date was important because of her husband’s status with the Army.
After serving 13 years with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Robert Zuniga was medically separated from the military on July 30 due to an injury. The Zunigas were told they’d only have healthcare through Tricare for six months.
“I understood that that meant until January 30th, because that is six months from July 30th to January 30th,” she said.
So on January 27, Patricia showed up for surgery at Madigan. Her blood was drawn, her skin prepped, when suddenly they escorted her into a conference room and gave her the news.
“Very, right up front. ‘You are not having your surgery today. You don’t have healthcare. You don’t have benefits.’ I said ‘What do you mean? I made sure I got this schedule before my benefits ended.’ ‘Your benefits ended 12 hours ago.'”
Patricia says it wasn’t until later she saw the expiration date in fine print on her military I.D. card, that said January 26, 2015. She admits she should have noticed it, but even more importantly, the staff at Madigan should have.
“I’m terrified right now, because I found this other lump,” said Zuniga.
And now she has a new lump growing over her thyroid gland. She found it eight days ago.
“I feel scared I have two daughters. I’m a young woman,” she said. “I want to live, that’s what I think every day when I take a shower, when I see it. And now when I see this. I just want to live.”
Citing privacy laws, a spokesperson from Madigan could not discuss her case. It’s unclear if her the expiration date on her military I.D. card also refers to her health insurance.
But the spokesperson said, “Once service members and families leave military service, health care benefits are usually discontinued unless there are extenuating circumstances.”
Zuniga will get insurance next month through the Affordable Care Act, and she’ll finally get to figure out what her condition is.