Last Friday, a Bank of America in Clackamas, Oregon was the victim of a robbery. As so often happens, a man passed a note to the teller behind the counter demanding money. The FBI reports that in 2011, there were 5,014 bank robberies resulting in losses of over $38 million. However, when Tim Alsip walked into this Bank of America and demanded the grand sum of one dollar, what he actually wanted was affordable healthcare.
After Alsip received the dollar, he sat in the lobby and calmly waited for the police to come. His expectation was that upon his arrest he would be charged with robbery and sent to prison, where presumably he would be able to receive low-cost treatment for dental issues that had been plaguing him. According to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, before the robbery the homeless Alsip had also attempted to use other unorthodox means such as flagging people down to call 911 and report life-threatening conditions in order to obtain treatment.
As bizarre as this incident seems, it is by no means the first instance of a person gaming the legal system to in order to willingly go to prison, nor is it even the first robbery carried out in order to receive access to healthcare. Earlier this year, in the Atlantic, Dr. Joshua Mezrich gave an account of a former patient who stole some lotion after he lost his health insurance in order to return to prison and cover the costs of a life-saving surgery. In 2011, Richard Verone did exactly the same thing as Alsip, politely robbing an RBC bank in North Carolina of a dollar. The unemployed and uninsured Verone intended to use prison as a boarding house of sorts in order to receive treatment for numerous health issues while imprisoned, and to pass the time until his social security payments would begin.
The fact that anyone would have to resort to crime simply to receive medical treatment in the U.S. is an aberration and truly sheds light on the failures of our healthcare system, and in turn, our legislative system. Due in no small part to the gridlock of partisan politics, our greatest legislative advancement in health care in nearly 50 years is still a half measure that only addresses symptoms and does not cure the problem. Despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act is meant to provide insurance for around 30 million people, it still leaves nearly just as many uninsured. This would include primarily low-income working Americans, between the ages of 18 and 44. In fact, some of these people may be eligible to receive subsidized health insurance, yet still find it entirely unaffordable! Given the choice between working for less than a living wage and struggling to secure necessities, or living in an all-expenses-paid environment that provides healthcare as well as room and board, it makes sense that some people would rather face a life in prison than the harsh realities outside of it.
A few years back, Aziz Ansari created a character named Jimmy Norville who satirically evangelized the health benefits of getting locked up. It's unfortunate that given a lack of options, it seems like people are actually taking Jimmy Norville's word at face value.