When James Verone lost the job he held for 17 years, he found a new one. When that one didn’t last, he found part-time work, but it offered no health insurance. He didn’t make enough, even on food stamps, to afford medical treatment.  Chronic back pain, a foot injury, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis and a protrusion on his chest kept him in so much pain, he had to do something. So he robbed the RBC Bank, leaving a media-ready note:

“This robbery is being committed by me for one dollar. I am of sound mind but not so much sound body.”

Mr. Verone was charged with larceny and taken to jail on $2,000 bail, which he has no intention of paying, since release would defeat the purpose: Mr. Verone committed his ‘crime’ in order to get medical care in jail.

Giving up freedom to live with criminals might sound extreme to most people, but it was a no-brainer for Verone, who has already been seen by nurses and has a doctor appointment for Friday.

“If you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.”

There may be more Americans making drastic choices like Verone’s  in the near future.  A recent health care spending report published in the New York Times shows that the total national health spending grew by 4 percent in 2009 – this is the slowest rate of increase for health spending in 50 years.

US hospitals reported fewer admissions, while many international hospitals reported increased admissions as US patients found less expensive health care options abroad.

Though the economy is shrinking, health care continues to account for an increasingly large share a record 17.6 percent of the total economic output in 2009 went to health care spending.

These trends are  driven largely by people like Verone, who have lost jobs and are deferring medical care.

It’s easy to see why patients turn to hospitals abroad – international hospitals offer major surgeries such as hip replacement at far lower costs than the US – often 50 and even 80% cheaper than comparable US hospitals – e.g. at Hospital Angeles the hip replacement cost is $14,500 while in the US it is about $40,000 according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Mr. Verone could have had his various ailments attended to at a private Mexican hospital for pennies on the dollar.  Instead, taxpayers will foot the bill, and that bill is only getting bigger as the prison population ages right along with the general population: the cost for inmate health care is ~$776 per month for 40-somethings, but jumps to $6,527 monthly for those over 70.

It’s not a problem a state can spend its way out of, as Oregon lawmakers are finding:  in the last decade they have doubled (to $100 million) allocations for prison medical and mental health services – that’s 7x the spending for the state’s education budget.

Verone, however, may have miscalculated the state’s ability to provide him with the health care he can’t afford on the outside.

A group called Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts fields about 500 complaints a year related to health care, a number that is growing exponentially given the growth and aging of the state’s prison population.  The complaints and lawsuits  show multiple cases of alleged failure or reluctance to test and diagnose inmates,  or heed specialists’ directives  – lapses that have not only left inmates with  physical deformities (or dead) but that have also resulted in a bigger taxpayer bill.

Consider imprisoned burglar Steven Grubbs, who was diagnosed with chronic colitis. Instead of paying for a doctor visit and the  $600 for a  six-week course of drugs that  would have cured him, the prison failed to diagnose Grubbs, and taxpayers had to foot the bill for a $15,000  ileostomy surgery, plus $600-a-month for  suppositories and colostomy bags.

“Some might say prisoners don’t deserve better because they’re being punished, but the punishment is loss of liberty, not loss of a limb, of eyesight, or of bowel function.”  ~Joel Thompson, co-chair of the Heath Care Project

Most of us would agree with this, were we in the prisoner’s shoes.  And no matter how you look at it, inadequate health care for inmates is a fail for both the  inmate and the taxpayer.

Read the full story here:  Man robs bank to get medical care in jail – Yahoo! News.