As unbelievable as it may sound, people are choosing to go to jail just for the medical coverage. With insurance premiums and other associated costs too lofty for many Americans to afford, some are becoming increasingly aware of the loopholes available to inmates: free health care. It’s a sad yet bizarrely rational decision for people whose biggest crimes are being sick and poor. Here are five such cases:
1. Suffering from ruptured discs and a tumor, Richard James Verone could not afford the necessary hospital bills, so he chose to rob a bank. The idea was not to get money to pay his medical bills – he only demanded $1 from the bank teller – but to get sent to jail where he could have his care covered. “I’m sort of a logical person and that was my logic,” Verone explained.
2. Frank J. Morrocco has a rare leukemia, but no finances to cover treatment for the disease. After going to prison in the ’90s on drug charges and learning how the nice the health care was, he schemed to return to jail by blatantly shoplifting $23 worth of useless things. “It was an act of desperation. I went into that store and took things I didn’t need, and I made sure a lot of people saw me,” he said. “At the time I did it, I felt that I didn’t have any other way to get the care that I need for my leukemia.” He later regretted the decision after friends came forward to offer to pay for his health insurance.
3. Dr. Joshua Mezrich writes about a confidential patient of his who also turned to shoplifting a small item in plain sight. The patient had aneurysms and was in dire need of life-saving surgery but couldn’t cover the costs. When presented to the judge, the patient asked for jail time, being candid about his emergency reason, and the judge granted him 14 months specifically so he could receive care.
4. Florida officials report that multiple pregnant women have turned to petty crimes so that they can get adequate prenatal care for their unborn children while in jail. Apparently, most of the women owned homes, were employed, and had clean criminal records until the recent recession, and now they have been forced to purposefully break the law to cover expenses.
5. For some, like Lance Brown, health care isn’t a matter of critical medical procedures: it’s a matter of having basic needs met. Homeless and starving, Brown broke a courthouse window with a brick so that he would be arrested and receive a safe place to sleep and regular meals.
It’s the sign of a flawed society when people feel compelled to commit crimes just to receive necessary care. Although it makes a mockery of the justice system, there is some poetic justice in knowing that those who are so opposed to the idea of government-funded health care have their tax dollars end up paying for these people’s care anyway.
But before anyone gets the motivation to try something similar, please be advised that it might not actually be the best option. Unfortunately, that is not to say that health care is becoming more affordable and accessible on the outside world, but that the quality of health care is on the decline in prisons, as well.
With massive prison overcrowding, officials complain that there is no longer adequate medical attention to go around for all inmates. Moreover, nearly half of all states have recently transitioned from public to private health care systems in their jails. As a result, such companies are already receiving a lot of criticism for increasing profits and cutting costs rather than providing adequate treatment to the patients – problems that plague the U.S.’s health care system on the whole.
However, some free medical care may still seem preferable to a lack of alternatives for non-convicts. After all, a life sentence is better than the death sentence that awaits those who go untreated on the outside world. That otherwise decent people should even have to ponder committing a crime as a mode of survival is yet further proof that we need comprehensive health care reform.