Written by Tara Culp-Ressler for Think Progress
Frank J. Morrocco was released from federal prison last December, after serving 20 years behind bars for a drug conspiracy conviction. But last month, Morrocco wanted to go back. He shoplifted from a local grocery store with the intention of getting arrested and getting sent to jail for a second time.
Why was Morrocco so eager to be put back behind bars? He suffers from a rare form of leukemia and lacks health insurance — he doesn’t have an employer-based plan because he is self-employed as a car buyer, and he falls into the gap between earning too much to qualify for Medicaid coverage and too little to be able to afford insurance on the private market — so he’s unable to access the treatment he needs. As the Buffalo News reports, Morrocco felt like prison was his only viable option under the circumstances:
That way, Morrocco said, he would be able to get “prison health care that is very good” — health care that he says he cannot afford as a free man.
“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,” the 56-year-old Morrocco told The Buffalo News. “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.” […]
Attorney Joel Daniels is now representing Morrocco. On Saturday, Daniels referred to the situation as “a very sad case, very unfortunate.”
“Hopefully, down the road, when Obamacare kicks in, you’ll no longer have situations like this,” Daniels said. “You’ll no longer have cases where a man is trying to get into prison to get better health care.”
After Morrocco was diagnosed with leukemia in prison in 2008, he was sent to a medical prison facility in North Carolina to receive regular check-ups, chemotherapy, and blood work. Since being released from prison, he’s only occasionally visited the doctor because he can’t afford it. After he got too weak without regular chemotherapy treatments over the summer, he did end up in the hospital twice — but now that he’s racked up over $5,000 in medical bills, he says he doesn’t have the money to go back.
Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is crucial to funding health care for ex-convicts like Morrocco, since it will help extend coverage to the underemployed or unemployed Americans who cannot currently afford to purchase insurance on the private market. But until the health reform law is fully implemented in 2014 — or if stubborn Republican governors continue to resist expanding Medicaid in their states — the soaring cost of health care is still forcing some uninsured Americans to go to desperate lengths to attempt to fund their medical costs. Those without adequate coverage are increasingly turning to the Internet to attempt to crowd source the funds they need to pay off their rising medical debt.
Since being arrested for shoplifting about $23 dollars’ worth of items, Morrocco has had second thoughts about his plan to return to jail. But he still feels like he doesn’t have many choices available to him. “Do I want to go back to prison? No,” Morrocco told the Buffalo News. “But do I want to die on the outside because I can’t afford health care? No, I don’t want to do that, either.”