NEW PORT RICHEY — Jason Biggs didn't think he needed a doctor. The large lump in his neck didn't hurt.
But a night of vomiting on Jan. 22 got his mother's attention. Donna Richardson took her 24-year-old son to the emergency room.
Doctors at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point took a CT scan, noted "a low density mass" in the left part of this thyroid and told Biggs to see a specialist for tests.
Biggs, who has no health insurance, went to Premier Community Healthcare Group, a nonprofit clinic that lets uninsured patients pay on a sliding fee scale. Doctors there diagnosed a thyroid problem and referred him to an ear, nose and throat specialist. But that doctor wanted $275 just for a first visit.
For a part-time grocery worker who makes minimum wage, that's simply too much.
Meanwhile, Biggs' mother worked the phone and cried.
She tried agency after agency. All turned her down. Good Samaritan Clinic has volunteers who specialize in ear, nose and throat. Premier is a primary care clinic. The county has a fund it uses to pay specialists for people like Biggs who fall through cracks. It ran out of money before the fiscal year was halfway through.
And Biggs, who is single with no children, isn't eligible for Medicaid.
"Because my son is responsible and isn't having children, he can't get help. I feel like he's being punished," Richardson said. "They told him if he were pregnant or a woman with children he might qualify. It's hard for a male between the ages of 17 and 64 to get any kind of help."
Moffitt Cancer Center told her it can help if the lump is malignant. To determine that will take a biopsy, the one thing that Biggs can't afford.
"Time is of the essence," his mother said.
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If Pasco needed a poster child for its health care crisis, Biggs is it.
He works part time, so he does not get benefits. His mother, 49, a part-timer at Publix, also has no insurance. Even if she did, Biggs, could not be on her policy because he's too old.
Biggs used to work in construction, but the work dried up when the housing market collapsed. Biggs and his fiancee, Ashley Klaver, along with Biggs' brother, Joshua, his wife and their two kids all live with Richardson in a ranch style house on a quiet street.
Biggs, his mother and his sister-in-law, who works in the Publix floral department, pool their money for the $1,100 monthly rent and groceries. Joshua, who also worked in construction, and Klaver have been unable to find jobs.
Biggs has been working as many hours as Winn-Dixie will give him in hopes he can be hired full time. He makes $7.35 an hour.
"I get so tired," he said. In addition to weakness, Biggs also has mood swings caused by the thyroid condition. "I have good days, then I have days where I'm upset all day about it," he said.
His mother spends her time away from work advocating for her son. She keeps all his medical information in a paper Publix folder. The letters on her pink T-shirt express her state of mind.
FATIGUED, it says.
"I try to make the calls because I don't want Jason to have to deal with the rejection," she said.
If all else failed, she said, Biggs' grandmother offered to loan him the money for the doctor visit. He could pay her back $10 a week.
"She's not rich. She's elderly and sick herself," Richardson said.
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Finally Richardson called one more agency, the Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. The agency has an office in New Port Richey. Staffers evaluate cases every Tuesday morning. The person on the phone told her to be there at 8:45 a.m.
The agency helps people with disabilities get and keep jobs. Richardson and Biggs woke up early and got in line.
The trip was worth it. The case worker took Biggs' information and said he would qualify to have the specialist visit paid for.
"After that, there were no guarantees," Richardson said.
Moffitt will help, she said, if her son has cancer.
If he doesn't have cancer but needs surgery or medication, the family has no means to pay for it.
Neither scenario is good.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Richardson. "A long time ago, if you got sick you got help. Now it's like, 'Oh well, so what?' "
Lisa Buie can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4604.