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A health care heist

By Erin Kelly,


Over the past few years, we’ve told you some truly bizarre stories about what people do in search of affordable health care. One woman got married to a man she barely knew to get his job-based health coverage. And one man flew out of the country to get surgery, because he didn’t have insurance and couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket costs that American hospitals were going to charge him. But we think this next story takes the cake.

A 59-year-old North Carolina man held up a bank—demanding only $1—so that he could be arrested and placed in prison where he could finally get the health care he needed.

James Richard Verone is like many without insurance. Verone worked for Coca-Cola for 17 years and after that job ended, he had only temporary employment options and eventually he wound up jobless. He worked several part-time jobs (which often don’t offer health insurance) and watched his savings quickly dwindle to nothing.

And that’s when his situation got even more complicated. According to the Gaston Gazette,

The Gastonia man’s back ached; problems with his left foot caused him to limp. His knuckles swelled from arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome made daily tasks difficult. Then he noticed a protrusion on his chest.

Desperate for access to affordable health care, Verone applied early for social security, but all he qualified for was food stamps. While the extra money helped, it didn’t cover nearly enough of the cost of the medical care he needed. That’s when he hatched his plan. He figured if he robbed a bank, they’d arrest him and in jail he could get the medical attention he needs.

The Gaston Gazette writes,

On June 9 he followed his typical morning routine of getting ready for the day. He took a cab down New Hope Road and picked a bank at random—RBC Bank. Verone didn’t want to scare anyone. He executed the robbery the most passive way he knew how. He handed the teller a note demanding one dollar, and medical attention.

While this is an extreme case, it just goes to show how few options people have when they don’t have access to affordable health care. One can play by the rules their entire life and still be left to make the difficult decision to go without insurance in order to afford things like rent and basic necessities.

What’s more, older Americans with health problems like Verone are often denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition or simply priced out of the system due to sky-high premiums. Insurance practices like these lead Americans to do crazy things for insurance, like marrying someone for coverage, flying out of the country for surgery, and yes, even robbing a bank.

The Gaston Gazette also notes that while Mr. Verone isn’t very political, he believes he wouldn’t be talking to a reporter through a metal screen in prison if the U.S. had comprehensive health care for every American.

And Mr. Verone is right. When every American has access to affordable health care that can’t be taken away if they lose their job or get sick, Americans won’t have to resort to committing a felony, simply to obtain much-needed medical care.