Man Goes to Jail to Get Health Care Benefits. Should You?
Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, UnitedHealth and now, the Big House?
When 59-year-old James Verone was let go from his job as a deliveryman for Coca-Cola three years ago, he of course simultaneously found himself without health care, given America's system of employer-based coverage. At an age that made full reentry into the labor market impossible for all intents and purposes, Verone went through the gamut of options to try and get by. He did some truck driving, worked as a clerk in a convenience store and qualified for food stamps.
Soon health problems emerged -- a potentially life-threatening growth on his chest, two ruptured disks in his back and problems with his left foot.
Having run out of savings, he opted for Plan J: He sought imprisonment so as to benefit from the American guarantee of health care for the nation's prisoners.
"This is a bank robbery. Please only give me one dollar," he said upon entering a North Carolina RBC bank on June 9, according to local media reports. "'I'll be sitting right over there in the chair waiting for the police."
His bond was reduced from $100,000 to $2,000, but Verone, currently residing in the Gaston County Jail, passed on it. Instead, he's looking forward to and enjoying appointments with the prison's medical staff, which will include a checkup this Friday.
"They are wards of the state. Prisoners are the only people constitutionally entitled to health care in this country," says Timothy Jost, a law professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, and author of "Health Law," in an interview with AOL Jobs. "There are some depths to which we will not stoop."
The provision of basic medical care for prisoners was enshrined by the 1976 Supreme Court case, Estelle v. Gamble. The decision was based in the outlawing of "cruel and unusual punishment" as stipulated by the Eighth Amendment.
And while prisoners' coverage is minimal, Jost asserts that Verone's strategy is not entirely without precedent.
"Our prison system is in many ways a mental-health system," he says. "Many of those incarcerated are mentally sick, and so you will definitely see people shoplifting so they can go back in and get their meds."
And while North Carolina has yet to fully review Verone's medical requests, the first-time inmate still has to confront unexpected legal hurdles: He may not get as harsh a penalty as he desires.
Because he only sought to steal $1, his crime was classified as as a larceny, not as a full bank robbery. And as larcenies carry less jail time, Verone's plan to stay in jail until he qualifies for Social Security may require further scheming.
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