Patrick Harris of Port Arthur, Texas © Microsoft

Patrick Harris of Port Arthur

Patrick Harris is in a Catch-22, one that's all too common in this country: too sick to work but, without the insurance benefits that come with a job, unable to get healthy enough to go out and get a job.

Harris, 57, was laid off more than a year ago when the treatment unit where he worked as a drug and alcohol counselor lost its state funding and closed. At the time, he was being treated for chronic hepatitis and degenerative bone disease.

Both conditions are manageable with consistent care from medical specialists and daily prescription drugs. Without this treatment, however, Harris suffers extreme fatigue, weakness and pain.

Without insurance, the medicine alone costs more than $2,300 a month, which he can't afford without a job.

"With the elimination of the job, the insurance was eliminated," he said. "I have these health issues that I have been unable to treat."

"And I just don't think that that's right," he added, "especially for somebody who has worked all their lives. I've paid into all this -- Medicaid and Medicare -- I've been paying into that stuff all my life and today I can't get an aspirin from anybody."

In a system where health benefits are tied to employers, and even many employers don't provide health insurance, Harris' situation is illustrative of the dilemma faced by millions of Americans.

There are currently an estimated 50.7 million Americans who don't have health insurance. According to a 2005 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nearly half of all uninsured, non-elderly adults report having a chronic condition. Of those, almost half forgo doctor's visits or medicine due to cost.

Harris filed a claim for Medicaid, but it was denied. He has appealed the case. He wants to get back to work, but without health care it's seemingly impossible. When untreated, his hepatitis keeps him too weak to make it through a workday, and his bone condition prevents him from sitting at a computer for more than an hour.

"I've learned to deal with a lot more pain," Harris said. "At the same time, it's raising my stress level. My depression is increasing, because of the fact that I have these issues and there's nothing I can do about it."

"And it makes me angry that I have to go through so much red tape to get some assistance, because I've worked my entire life," he added.

Harris, who won't be eligible for Medicare for eight years, appreciates what President Barack Obama has accomplished to try and ensure that everyone in this country has health care. But he is skeptical that members of Congress, or another administration, will pursue the same health care goals. And everyone's cooperation is needed, he said.

"It seems to me that ain't no one man who's going to decide which way this nation's going, it has to go through the entire Congress. And not everybody in the Congress is there to serve the people," he said.

"It appears to me that any Republican perspective is: It's all about the rich. It's very little attention focused on the middle class or the poor," Harris added. "In my view, the Republican Party, regardless of who's running it, as a whole, they're about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer."

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