In the wealthiest nation on earth

If Dickens were around today, I imagine his novels would include stories like these. Alas, this isn’t fiction.

As if conjured up by a presidential speechwriter to star in an anecdote about America’s dysfunctional health insurance system, James Verone, a 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., and handed the teller a note, explaining that this was an unarmed robbery, but that she better turn over $1 and call the cops.

That, he figured, would be enough to get arrested and sent to prison for a few years, where he could take advantage of the free medical care.

Just to make sure that no one was confused about his intentions, Mr. Verone made sure to let the teller know that he would be sitting on a couch in the bank, waiting for the police. Before he set out for the bank the morning of June 9, he also mailed a letter explaining his scheme to a local newspaper, The Gaston Gazette.

In his letter to his local paper, Verone explained, “I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”

What Verone didn’t realize was that he should have demanded more money. Because he only asked for $1, Verone was charged with larceny, not bank robbery. He’s still facing a possible prison sentence, but he hoped to be locked up for three years, which now appears unlikely.

As for the politics of this, I suspect the typical Republican would hear about Verone’s plight and think, “It’s obviously time to end medical care for those in American prisons.” Whereas the more sensible attitude is, “It’s unacceptable for law-abiding Americans in the wealthiest nation on earth to be pushed to such desperate measures.”

It’s also worth noting that when the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, Verone will have far more options to receive quality care, but that won’t happen for a few more years. And in the interim, if Republican policymakers or Republican judges end up scrapping the ACA, Verone and millions of others will just be out of luck.

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