In what can only be described as a new low for the for-profit healthcare system, 59-year-old Richard James Verone held up a bank for $1 with the hopes of going to prison and obtaining prison health care. In Gaston County, North Carolina, Verone showed up at the RBC bank, presented the teller with a note indicating he was robbing the bank in the amount of $1, and after receiving the dollar from the teller, sat down to wait for the police to arrive.
The former Coca-Cola delivery driver's 17-year-career ended a few years ago and with an undiagnosed growth in his chest, two ruptured discs in his back and a problem with his foot, he simply doesn't have the savings or physical ability to work enough to bridge the gap to Social Security benefits in a few years.
When discussing this story with friends in other countries, and in reading audience emails from foreigners, the bewilderment about how healthcare could even be a for-profit business in the U.S. came through loud and clear. The idea that access to and quality of care are controlled by for-profit companies may appear normal to many Americans, but in most of the developed world, it is hard to fathom.
Sadly, I wasn't one bit shocked when I heard about Verone's plan - except for surprise at not having heard about anyone trying this tactic sooner. Given the desperate state that millions of individuals are in when it comes to basic medical care, one would think that "creative solutions" such as going to prison would be far more common.
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Health insurance and pharmaceutical companies are cashing in. With minor exceptions, there is really nothing and no one to stop them from doing it at the expense of people's health and lives. Although both Democratic and Republican officials are, for the most part, beholden to similar corporate interests, including healthcare players with an interest in maintaining the status quo, conservative forums have been riddled with bizarre commentary about Richard James Verone.
In Internet message boards, many conservatives are up in arms, angry that Verone had found a way to "get free healthcare he didn't deserve" and were feverishly scheming to find ways to deny Verone the ability to obtain the medical care he needs if he is "lucky" to get a long enough sentence # which may not happen.
Because Verone asked for only $1 during his bank robbery and had no weapon, he is being charged with larceny from a person, a lesser crime that may carry little jail time. Verone did say that if the sentence isn't "long enough," he'll turn to crime again.
One of the most ironic parts of the story lies in traditional Republican arguments against a national healthcare system, most notably that of cost. Time and time again, we hear arguments from the right that a national healthcare system would cost taxpayers too much. However, Verone's strategy, because he has no access to healthcare, will put the bill on the same taxpayers Republicans are worried about overburdening with a system that will cover everyone, through the taxpayer-funded prison medical system.
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If Verone's story continues to be reported on by corporate media, or if others copy him, it may give a new media push to the need for a single-payer healthcare system.
With that, expect to hear a new talking points added to the existing list, which includes such gems as a "single-payer health care system would be inefficient due to government involvement," that single-payer health care represents a "government takeover" or "loss of freedom," that care will become worse or less accessible, that government bureaucrats (instead of for-profit insurance companies) will make evil decisions about individuals' health coverage, that health care costs will skyrocket and, of course, that the United States will be a socialist, Marxist, Communist country if single-payer healthcare is adopted.
I'm not sure whether Vermont's newly passed single-payer healthcare bill will change the game in terms of American healthcare when it is put in place in 2017 - or, optimistically, in 2014. I'm not sure whether the corporate interests that will seek to frame that plan as a terrible idea will succeed in scaring people enough to create momentum against it.
I'm also not sure how many more Richard James Verones there will be before any significant change is effected. What I'm sure about, and a majority of Americans endorse in poll after poll, is that a single-payer healthcare system would be best for everyone involved - except for the profits of large health insurance and pharmaceutical companies.
David Pakman of Northampton, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, "The David Pakman Show," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com.