Health Care

Two heart attacks and living in an abandoned house

Eric Schmidt, 51, sits on the steps of the abandoned house where he sleeps.
Eric Schmidt, 51, sits on the steps of the abandoned house where he sleeps. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

For two years, Florida legislators have refused to expand Medicaid as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Their decision left an estimated 850,000 Floridians without healthcare insurance in the "coverage gap." Here are some of their stories.

A former construction worker whose coronary artery disease has led to two heart attacks, Eric Schmidt can no longer lift bags of concrete mix or carry stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder.

“I know I’m not the man I used to be,’’ he said. “But I wish I was, because I loved to work.’’

Homeless and squatting in an abandoned house in Little Havana, Schmidt, 51, also has high blood pressure and depression. He is uninsured and relies on free medical care from doctors at Camillus House, a homeless shelter, and Jackson Health System, Miami-Dade’s public hospital network.

Schmidt has lived in the abandoned house since the fall because, he said, it’s safer than the streets. Arrested five times since 2008 on charges ranging from battery to domestic violence to DUI, Schmidt says he cannot get into a shelter.

On a recent weekday morning, Schmidt took out six plastic pill bottles of prescription drugs, acquired through the charity care program at Jackson.

“All this is thanks to the J11 card,” he said, referring to the Jackson program for homeless Miami-Dade residents. “They saved me when I went there, when I had the last heart attack.’’

He described his symptoms: “Sometimes my heart feels like it wants to come out of my chest. Sometimes it runs real slow, and sometimes it runs real fast.’’

Like many in the coverage gap, Schmidt has applied numerous times for Social Security disability benefits but has been denied. If Florida expanded Medicaid, Schmidt would be eligible for coverage.

“I’m all for medical insurance. I need it,’’ he said. “Forty percent of my heart is dead, and it’s not going to come back. That’s what the doctors told me.’’