Few news stories have provided more compelling testimony about how the nation’s healthcare system fails millions of people is the report that a North Carolina man robbed a local bank of just $1 so that he could have multiple healthcare problems treated in jail. Richard James Verone, a 59-year-old unemployed man with multiple health issues, robbed a local bank so he could go to prison and receive treatment for his conditions — he said it was the only way he could get healthcare.
Verone has an undiagnosed growth in his chest, two ruptured back discs, and a foot problem. His medical condition made working difficult after his 17-year career as a Coca-Cola delivery driver ended. He tried living off savings and part time jobs, but that proved inadequate. He applied for Social Security but only received food stamps with no resolution to his medical problems. When robbing the bank, Verone gave the teller a note explaining that he only wanted $1. He did not want to frighten anyone and was not doing it for the money. After the teller handed him a dollar, Verone said “I’ll be sitting right over here on the chair waiting for the police.” When the police arrived, Verone was sitting on a sofa inside the bank. “I’m sort of a logical person and that was my logic,” Verone said. “If it is called manipulation, out of necessity because I need medical care, then I guess I am manipulating the courts to get medical care.”
Verone faces charges for larceny from a person, which is unlikely to keep him behind bars for more than one year. He is being held in Gaston County Jail, where he has already been seen by several nurses, on a $2,000 bond. If his sentence is too short, Verone said he plans to rob again.
“The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” Verone said. “I kind of hit a brick wall with everything.” Verone said he “exercised all the alternatives” before the bank heist. As the day approached, Verone paid his last month’s rent, donated his furniture and moved into a hotel. Before going to the bank, he mailed a letter to the Gaston Gazette outlining his plans. According to the letter, “When you receive this, a bank robbery will have been committed by me. This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar,” he wrote, wanting to make clear that the motive for his crime was strictly medical and not monetary. “I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”
Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, John Thorpe says that “After depleting his life savings and realizing he had, literally, nowhere else to turn, Verone committed the crime, hoping he could get the medical care that he so desperately needs. This is what America has come to? Otherwise honest folks, with nowhere to turn in life, have to resort to fake-robbing a bank with the hopes they’ll be arrested so they can receive medical care? There is absolutely no reason for an allegedly civilized country, particularly one as wealthy as America, to pass the buck on providing healthcare for everyone. Yes, everyone: the employed and the unemployed; the sick and the healthy; old and young. Before you scream ‘oh no, socialism!!!’ stop and consider what you mean by that. How do socialist systems pay for healthcare? Taxes are collected from businesses and citizens, and a portion of those taxes go to cover the healthcare costs of everyone in the plan – in other words, everyone in the country.
“How do health insurance systems pay for healthcare?” Thorpe asks. “Premiums are collected from businesses and employees, and a portion of those premiums go to cover the healthcare costs of everyone in the plan. The difference between the two? Socialized care costs less (because it has a much larger pool of people to draw from), covers everyone at all times, and prevents people from purposefully committing crimes to get treated. Insurance systems ARE socialized systems, except they don’t cover everyone and allow a corporation – an entity that neither receives nor provides the medical treatment – to skim a profit off the top. In what sort of twisted mind is that the rational way to provide medical care? It’s not like the marketplace can rationally set prices for healthcare. A dying man has no ability to check prices and compare services before deciding which hospital he’ll take his heart attack to.”
Robert Oak of the Economic Populist, agrees with Thorpe. “He (Verone) got his healthcare and how many others are committing felonies so they can get food, shelter and medical attention to save their lives? If we cannot get universal single payer, perhaps all of America should behave as Verone did, so finally, we could all get some healthcare. What’s wrong with this picture?”
Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones, points out that the cost of caring for Verone for the year that he is likely to be incarcerated does not come cheaply. “The story is telling not just because it shows the sad desperation of uninsured Americans who have trouble finding healthcare — but also how costly it is to leave such problems unattended. James Verone may have only robbed the bank of one dollar, but the cost of jailing him for just one year in North Carolina is over $23,000, not to mention the legal fees his case will rack up as well. Similarly, if he wasn’t in prison, and his health problems worsened, he could end up in an emergency room, where the state would again have to help foot the bill if he couldn’t pay. Insuring him would likely be the cheapest option — which is one reason why Democrats have made universal coverage a priority under federal health reform.”
Verone concludes “I didn’t have any fears. If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”