8 Heart Attacks Later, N.J. Man Gets Health Insurance

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Health care providers, like Dr. Tom Ortiz in Newark, anticipate seeing more patients with insurance coverage, as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Meet Robert Woodard.

He's 58, jaunty and feels pretty healthy -- despite having had what he believes were eight heart attacks.

"See what happened was, when I had the first heart attack, I walked around two days and didn't know it was a heart attack," Woodard said. "I thought it was gas."

Woodard lived in North Carolina at the time, where he didn't have health insurance, and continued to get sicker. Now he needs a heart transplant, and Woodard has returned to his home state of New Jersey. And that happy accident has resulted in being eligible for Medicaid, because New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took the federal government up on its offer to pay for an expansion of the program.

More than 140,000 low-income residents have joined  the Medicaid system in the Garden State. ney to DISqualify themselves from getting help. 

"In the old system the only way that you could get medicaid for most people was that you had to live in dire poverty, and often you had to go on welfare," said Ray Castro,  a health policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective.

But many of the new enrollees have complicated -- and expensive -- health problems brought on by years of limited health care.

"They show up at the door with what you think is a 15-minute visit and you end up spending an hour with them," said Dr. Kalifat Adewunmi, the clinical director for a Newark health center run by the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center. She's been seeing patients like Woodard for a while -- people with chronic problems that have worsened as they've been ignored.

Woodard is facing a long, complicated road to recovery that is uncertain at best.  But for now, he is waiting for his application for Medicaid to be processed. New Jersey state officials say they are still struggling to process more than 30,000 applications that have been delayed by technological glitches.

This series is produced with support from The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.