No, it’s not an Onion article. An unemployed, sickly man in North Carolina robbed a bank of a single dollar in hopes of being arrested and receiving free health care in prison. The New York Times relays the story, which seems destined to become a political anecdote about our dysfunctional health care system:
James Verone, an unemployed 59-year-old with a bad back, a sore foot and an undiagnosed growth on his chest, limped into a bank in Gastonia, N.C., this month and handed the teller a note, explaining that this was an unarmed robbery, but she’d better turn over $1 and call the cops. That, he figured, would be enough to get himself arrested and sent to prison for a few years, where he could take advantage of the free medical care…
In a television interview last week with a local news station, WCNC, Mr. Verone explained that he was hoping for a three-year sentence, which would give him a place to live and free health care until he was old enough to collect a Social Security check and buy a condo on the beach.
The story is telling not just because it shows the sad desperation of uninsured Americans who have trouble finding health care—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.