Our Health System Is So Sicko
Wednesday - July 25, 2007
Last week I went to see Michael Moore’s new film Sicko. It’s Moore’s best work - and that’s saying a lot, for over the past two decades he has brought new status and skill to the documentary.
In 1989, Moore made Roger and Me. It told the story of General Motors’ closing of a Flint, Mich., auto plant and the unwillingness of the GM’s executives to explain why Flint’s jobs needed to be sent to Mexico.
In 2002, in the aftermath of the mass murders by two students at a Colorado high school, Moore made Bowling for Columbine, in which he examined America’s love affair with guns and the electoral terrorist threat the National Rifle Association poses to local, state, and national politicians.
In 2004, in a film entitled Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore indicted George W. Bush for leading the nation - through either incompetence or a pack of lies - into a bloody, expensive and ultimately futile war in Iraq.
In those three films, he took on formidable opponents: corporate America, the NRA, and the President of the United States. In Sicko, Moore goes after another one, the nation’s so called healthcare system: a “system” that leaves nearly 50 million Americans without healthcare insurance, a “system” that results in 6.63 infant deaths per 1,000 live births (No. 36 in the world), and a “system” that contributes to the United States ranking a lowly 45th in the life expectancy of its citizens.
Every Moore documentary has its villains. Sicko has a long list of them: health maintenance organizations, the health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the American Medical Association, and the politicians that HMOs, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the AMA buy with their campaign contributions.
Moore’s genius is his understanding of Charlie Chaplin’s dictum that “Life is a tragedy when seen close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” He begins Sicko with the story of a man who lost two fingers to a power saw. The surgeons told him it would cost $12,000 to reattach his ring finger, $60,000 his middle finger. He chose to have the ring finger reattached, gave his middle finger to the docs.
Then Moore gives us a young woman who worked for a health insurance company, checking the completeness of new applications. The company manual she must follow lists 37 pages of pre-existing health conditions that would disqualify applicants.
And the HMO doctor who reviewed requests for various procedures. “Doctors like myself received bonuses and promotions for medical denials,” she tells Moore. “Remember, it is considered a financial loss for these companies if you make a payment on a claim - if you treat a medical problem.”
Moore notes Hillary Clinton’s effort in the early ‘90s to bring healthcare coverage to all Americans - and the furious reaction of the medical establishment and the politicians they own, the denunciations of the hated and deplored “socialized medicine” and the more than $100 million spent by insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry on advertising to defeat Clinton’s proposal.
Socialized medicine makes up the second half of Sicko. Moore looks at the national health systems of Canada, Great Britain, France and Cuba. In Canada, Moore can’t find anyone to decry the national health care system so much decried by opponents of a national system in the United States. Says a member of the Canadian Conservative Party to Moore: “It’s really a fabulous system.” And Moore notes that the Canadians it serves live three years longer than Americans.
In England Moore visits a National Health Service clinic where “they laugh at you when you try to pay.” Drugs cost $10, no matter how many or what you buy - from sleeping pills to the makings of an AIDS cocktail.
A retired Labor Party politician tells Moore about the passage of the National Health Service legislation in 1948 and of how non-controversial it has become in England. “Even Margaret Thatcher endorsed it,” he says.
In France, Moore listens to a group of American residents who tell him that they’re living in “the most family friendly country in the world, much friendlier than the United States.” That friendliness begins with a health system based on “solidarity - you pay according your ability; you are cared for according to your needs.”
Moore returns to the United States where he finds Kaiser Permanente dumping patients in front of skid row clinics and 9/11 rescuers suffering from lung infections who cannot afford their health care.
(Former Hawaii Congressman Ed Case has a bit part in Sicko, sitting at a table where a young U.S. soldier testifies that we’re giving our prisoners and enemies better health care than we do our citizens back home.)
See Sicko. Moore makes a persuasive case that the citizens of the United States deserve a national health service.
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