Blog | Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rob a bank to get health care

Just when you think things can't get any nuttier with American health care, here comes the strange and sad case of James Richard Verone. Mr. Verone, age 59, was laid off from his job of 17 years as a Coca-Cola deliveryman. He went through his savings and took a part-time position as a convenience store clerk but he had no health insurance. He had a back ache from lifting and bending and pain in his foot that caused him to limp. He also suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. When he noticed a protrusion on his chest he knew he needed medical attention. What is an impoverished, uninsured guy to do?

Image from the Gaston County (North Carolina) Sheriff's OfficeHe woke up, showered, put on a freshly ironed shirt and walked into a bank and handed the cashier a note demanding $1 and medical attention and then he waited for police to show up and arrest him. Before his caper, he sent a letter to the local paper, listing the return address as the Gaston County Jail.

"When you receive this a bank robbery will have been committed by me," he wrote. "This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body."

Mr. Verone, who has never before been in trouble with the law, has already seen some nurses and has a jail doctor appointment on Friday. He wants the protrusion on his chest treated and he hopes to get back and foot surgery. (Mr. Verone needs to know that surgery is a last option and there are many treatments and steps before such aggressive action is contemplated)

Mr. Verone believes that if the United States had a health-care system that offered people more government support, he wouldn't have to make the choice he did.

Before you write this guy off as a kook, consider this. With back pain, carpal tunnel and a chest protrusion, he cannot go on the open market and buy insurance, even if he could pay the premium, which would probably exceed $1,500/ month and have a $5,000 deductible and exclude certain conditions. He is essentially uninsurable. Since he is working, he may not qualify for Medicaid. There are millions of James Verones all across the United States. They pay for care out of their pockets when they can, use the emergency room when they can't stand it anymore and suffer pain and disability far more than they seek help. As James Verone says, "If you don't have your health you don't have anything."

The Affordable Care Act is supposed to help Americans like James Verone get affordable health insurance. Most of the provisions do not go into effect until 2014 which gives the opponents lots of time to overturn it and keep things just as they are.

I doubt that James Richard Verone's scheme will work. You can't be kept in jail for simple larceny and get free health care. He will probably be fined and turned out on the street to limp back to work and struggle with his chest protrusion on his own.

This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.