SiCKO (2007)

Documentary. Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V- 1; L- 3; S/N-0 . Running time: 2 hours 3 min.

Now there was a woman who had been suffering from
hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much
under many physicians, and had spent all that she had;
and she was no better, but rather grew worse.
Mark 5:25-26

Michael Moore is reviled and beloved, his polemical films being the counterpart of the political tracts written by 18th century writers out to advance their cause by marshalling their facts and arguments and pouring scorn and contempt upon their adversaries. In his newest film, a bit less polemical, perhaps because his compassion for some of the victims whom he interviews is so apparent, he takes up the cause of health reform. Those who hate him because of his harsh attacks upon the Bush administration in his other films would do well to consider this one: because the for-profit American health industry affects us all, this is a film that really does matter, even if it is a very flawed one.

SiCKO

SiCKO is divided into two parts. In the first Mr. Moore looks at the health industry in the USA, from HMOs to hospitals to politicians, and then he dons his traveling shoes to take us to Canada, Britain, France, and a certain nation south of Florida to compare their health systems to our own. His conclusions fly in the face of what we have been told for several decades, that our free enterprise health care system is superior to anything else in the world, and that the government supported systems of such countries as Canada and Great Britain, disdainfully called “socialized medicine,” are so fraught with problems that patients have to wait for care so long that their lives are threatened. The opposite is the case, Mr. Moore claims, and he has the interviews and statistics to support his claim—but are we given the whole picture of the situation in those countries? Mr. Moore interviews only those patients and doctors who are sold on their system, but a friend, who lived in the UK for ten years, offers a very different view (more later).

In 2006 he put forth a call on his website for people with health care system problems to contact him: “If you’d like me to know what you’ve been through with your insurance company, or what it’s been like to have no insurance at all, or how the hospitals and doctors wouldn’t treat you (or if they did, how they sent you into poverty trying to pay their crazy bills) …if you have been abused in any way by this sick, greedy, grubby system and it has caused you or your loved ones great sorrow and pain, let me know.” (Not exactly an objective call, is it?) He expected a few hundred or a thousand, but within a short time was deluged with over 25,000 responses.

Among those responding was Rick, who, having cut off his middle and ring fingers on a band saw, had to decide which finger he wanted sewn back on. His insurance company told him that the middle one would cost $50,000 and the ring finger $12,000, but it would not pay for both. Being married, he chose the ring finger. Later, Moore tells a British doctor this story, and the doctor shakes his head, assuring Moore that no such decision would have to be made by a citizen in his country—and that he would not like to be a part of such a system that inflicts its clients this way. We see a man who had lost all of his fingers in an accident, and the team of surgeons sewed them all back on, no charge to the man. The experience of people in Canada and France is the same, with the tax-supported health care system freeing them from the fear and worry that dogs Americans whose medical bills tower so high that they must sometimes give up their homes, as in the case of Donna, whose retired husband required so much care and medicines that they had to sell their home and move into cramped quarters with their son and daughter-in-law.

Former health care workers, including a physician who testified ( “confessed” might be a better word), tell of their implication in the decision-making process that looks for every conceivable excuse for denying payment. In a Catch-22 instance a woman injured in an accident was denied payment for her ambulance service because she had not sought “prior approval” ! Most telling is the excerpt of a videotape of President Nixon and an advisor talking about promoting HMOs because they would keep down the cost of health care. The reasoning, which won over Nixon was that an HMO is in business to make a profit, and therefore they would deny payments whenever possible to keep those costs down. This answers a question I have wondered about for many years—why would we insert a complex layer of bureaucrats between patients and doctors and think that we would save money?

There is much more to this intriguing film. If Moore is even half right, we have been sold a bill of goods by the health care industry—in which he includes the AMA, the drug companies, hospital authorities, and HMO and insurance industries—that are as outrageous in their disregard for the public welfare as were the captains of the tobacco industry who lined up before a Congressional committee and solemnly swore that their cigarettes were not a health hazard. Like the tobacco industry, the health care industry is rich and not shy about lobbying Congress, making sure that no bill will pass that is against their interest (profits)—remember the so-called Medicare reform that turned out to be such a boon to the drug manufacturers?! In one scene of a gathering of Congregational leaders and the President, Moore inserts above the heads of the august leaders the amount of cash with which each had been bought. The saddest note is that the former champion of universal health care has also been bought, Hillary Clinton apparently widening her support base now that she is running for the Presidency.

Had Isaiah or Jeremiah been able to wield a movie camera, I doubt that they would have made a more telling and compassionate case on behalf of those being exploited—but they might also have refused to play so easily with the facts, as Mr. Moore does. I believe that viewers will want to check on Mr. Moore’s assertions about the health systems of the other countries surveyed. Do they really operate as smoothly as he claims?

In regards to the UK health care system, my friend states, “It was horrible and was hated both by patients and doctors alike. Finally everyone was given the freedom to use other health services.” It still has problems in regard to long waits for medical care: he reports that his brother-in-law “has been through hell the last few months just getting someone to help him with his ear problems,” and that his mother-in-law could not get an MRI for her back even though a tumor was slowly crippling her.” (Sounds like Moore could easily have attacked the UK system by using these two cases, as he does with American examples.) Mr. Moore makes a good case for reforming our system, but his holding up as paragons those of other countries without revealing their defects oversimplifies a very complicated problem