High-contrast close-up of a rolled up $1 bill.
James Verone's $1 bank robbery underscored the trouble with U.S. health insurance. (Photo Credit: CC BY/MoneyBlogNewz/Flickr)

According to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, more than 52 million Americans went without medical insurance in 2010. Richard James Verone, 59, is one of those people. A Gastonia, N.C., resident, Verone fell on hard times and was left without health coverage. In an effort to obtain care for his aching back, sore foot and an undiagnosed lump on his chest, the desperate man committed a $1 bank robbery with the intention of hurling himself into the arms of the prison health care system.

James Verone could be any one of us

James Verone’s $1 bank robbery, at RBC Bank in Gastonia, could be an effective anecdote for a presidential speechwriter looking to criticize the U.S. healthcare system. The former Coca-Cola delivery driver limped into the bank and informed the teller via a note that he was committing an unarmed robbery. She was ordered to turn over $1, then immediately call the police. Verone wrote that he would be waiting on a couch in the bank lobby, according to The Gaston Gazette.

Verone figured this would be enough to get himself into the prison system for a few years so that he could take advantage of free medical care. In a pre-robbery letter to the local newspaper, he explained that he isn’t crazy:

“I am of sound mind but not so much sound body,” the letter read.

Another hard-working American left behind

After 17 years of service to Coca-Cola, James Verone drove a truck independently, then found work in a convenience store. The constant bending, standing and lifting caused back and foot problems and aggravated his arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The work was only part-time, not enough to warrant benefits.

Once Verone had exhausted his modest savings, he filed for disability and early Social Security. Food stamps helped, as did the extra cash, but it was far from enough to cover the health care he needed. Rather than burden his siblings or the state, he decided upon the desperate $1 bank robbery.

“The pain was beyond the tolerance that I could accept,” he said. “I hit a brick wall.”

For a few dollars more

While James Verone maintains hope that he will receive the care he needs to be a functional human being, reporter Diane Turbyfill of The Gaston Gazette points out that there’s a detail he missed. While interviewing Verone in prison, she mentioned that because he only demanded $1, he was charged with larceny from an individual, rather than a bank robbery.

“Still a felony, (but) the count doesn’t carry as much jail time as bank robbery,” Turbyfill said.

As it stands, James Verone will likely serve no more than 12 months in Gaston County Jail for his $1 bank robbery.

James Verone and the search for health care

Sources

Families.com: http://insurance.families.com/blog/those-without-health-insurance-arent-choosing-to-go-without
The Gaston Gazette: http://www.gastongazette.com/news/bank-58397-richard-hailed.html
Good Morning America: http://abcn.ws/lzzB9y
New York Times: http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/20/man-turns-to-crime-for-prison-health-care/

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