Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Tears Than Laughs in Sicko by Michael Moore

A young child gets sick with an imminently treatable virus; her temperature soars to 104° yet the hospital refuses to treat her. She has a seizure, followed by cardiac arrest. Still no medical care. Eventually, she dies. Was this little girl an impoverished Haitian? A rural African or better yet, an inner city kid from Detroit? No, she was a white American with health insurance whose carrier insisted that she be transported to another hospital within the network. How could that happen?

In his finest film to date, Michael Moore provides a devastating critique of the US health care system, or the lack thereof. He opens the movie by talking about the 50 million Americans who don't have any health insurance but quickly moves on to focus on the remaining 250 million who are insured, largely by health maintenance organizations whose sole goal is profit at any expense.

Moore traces the origin of the HMO to a highly inflammatory conversation that President Nixon had with an aide back in 1971 whereby Nixon announced that it would be a terrible idea for government to expand its role in health care but a wonderful prospect if it were to be privatized. And so we find ourselves in the sorry state that we have today where people work their asses off, believing that they will be protected if they get sick but in fact, they are routinely denied coverage and/or benefits by HMOs for any reason under the sun. Pre-existing conditions can disqualify people from getting insurance. Failure to disclose a benign and ridiculous problem such as an ordinary yeast infection led Blue Cross to stop payment on a hospital bill for a distraught woman with endometriosis who had been faithfully paying her Blue Cross premiums.

Moore contrasts the American system with that of other countries and points out that the United States is the only Western industrialized country that lacks a universal health care system. He visits Canada, Britain, and France -- and even Cuba, in a particularly daring, in-your-face maneuver that only he could pull off -- concluding that they are vastly superior to the US.

What Moore doesn't mention is that most of the countries above, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have a parallel private system. He tends to glorify Canada with his selective perspective and interviewing techniques, dismissing news reports about long waiting lists for procedures and lack of proper equipment in Canada as being sheer propaganda; he interviews Canadians in Windsor, Ontario who claimed that they had only been waiting for 20 minutes or so to see a doctor.

Having had the advantage of living in the US for 26 years and the remainder of my 28 years in Canada, I can say with confidence that any time I've had to go to the emergency room in Ottawa, I've waited four to eight hours. I also waited 18 months for a hip replacement that I needed at the age of 47 as a result of a car accident; and there is a marked shortage of MRI machines in Canada's capital. As a result, a small private system has emerged in Québec where people go across the line to pay $700 for their MRI so as to discover a tumor before it metastasizes. Canadians also pay for medications, physiotherapy and dental care, although these services are subsidized for those with low income.

Also, theoretically, Canadians have the choice of any doctor that they want to see. However, in real life, many people have difficulty even finding a family doctor due to a severe shortage even in the cities. I wouldn't leave my family doctor for anything, even if I couldn't stand him. Fortunately, I do like the man a great deal but I know many people, including cancer survivors and older people with Parkinson's and serious blood disorders, who cannot find a family doctor so they rely on treatment from walk-in clinics. That's the worst kind of medicine for someone with a chronic problem or a complicated health history. For those with flus and bad backs, it works fine but not for anything more complex.

Despite these minor problems with the Canadian system, I would choose it hands-down any day of the week over American health care. Canadian Medicare is unquestionably better which is why it wouldn't have hurt Moore at all to have made a more balanced presentation of the facts.

Aside from the outstanding medical care that Michael Moore managed to subversively obtain for some 9/11 workers in Cuba, the country that stood above all others in his analysis was France -- 35 hour work weeks, five weeks paid vacation per year even for part-time workers, full universal health care, nannies who are sent out by the government to help new mothers (and even do their laundry!), excellent subsidized day care, and romantic couples kissing in parks along with families relaxing, so unlike their American counterparts, filled with road rage as they drive home after their backbreaking 10 hour day to pick up some fast food at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The French have it all, including the pastries.

What Moore doesn't address is the recent election in France. Why was the left-wing government voted out and replaced by a strong right-winger if everyone was so happy with their idyllic situation?

Lastly, Moore asks what's wrong with the American government. I ask what's wrong with the American people. There are only 435 members of the House of Representatives, 50 members of Congress and a handful of people in the White House. If there's power in numbers, the people have it. Why aren't they using it? When did they become so complacent? Why aren't they marching in the streets, holding dead children in their arms and missing fingers that they couldn't afford to reattach? Has the Bush regime rendered them all terrified? But the problem predates Bush by a long shot and didn't seem to improve during the eight years that Clinton/Gore had in office.

Don't buy the argument that the government can't afford universal health care -- according to the Associated Press, US taxpayers are spending an estimated $10 billion a month in Iraq. Ouch.

I loved Sicko and I'll see it again on DVD so I can pause, rewind and reflect on the horrors of the American health care plan. No one says it better than Moore and I've been a fan of all of his movies, however, he always has his point of view and it wouldn't hurt him to balance things out just a tiny bit. That won't prevent me from giving this ..ary a five-star plus rating but I didn't find it as funny as others did. Sarcastic, yes. Black humor? Definitely. Laugh-out-loud funny? Hmmm. I missed that! But don't you miss this brilliant, acerbic exposé.



Anonymous said...

The Majority of American's have very good health care. Better then the Health care of the average Canadian. It will be very difficult for any Government to convince them to risk this or raise taxes to provide Health care for the large number of American's that have poor or no Health Care. This is just the way it is.

Sigrid Macdonald said...

Hi, thanks for your comment. I agree that Moore did not interview the average American and that was another area where he had a problem with omission -- he didn't talk about the number of Americans who are perfectly happy with their health care plans and who would hate to move to a socialized system and I suspect that there are a fair number of those people.

However, it would be good to know the *exact* percent of Americans who are satisfied with their current health care program versus those who aren't. Ditto for Canadians. Surely that's been done by some think tank or Gallup poll but I don't have that info.

My opinion is based largely on anecdotal evidence from my life and from having lived for about 25 years in each country. But that's not science. Science would poll a representative sample of both Americans and Canadians and ask them identical questions -- are you happy with your current health care plan or would you prefer to switch to a different system?

I don't think you'd find that many Canadians who would opt to give up universal health care, even among the wealthy or the most hard-core conservatives. What the right wing does advocate here -- and I am completely in favor -- is constructing a parallel private health care system for those who can afford their own joint replacements, cataract surgery, or MRIs to flush out that early tumor. OTOH, based on the actions of politicians and judges in Canada, the private system is evolving very slowly here due to great resistance, but it *is* evolving. [Moore also failed to mention that private systems exist in Britain, New Zealand and Australia as well, and are frequently relied upon by those in higher income brackets to get around long waiting lists.]

Thanks for your input. I appreciate hearing from people with different viewpoints.


Sigrid Macdonald said...

Okay. I'm conveniently reading the book by Lou Dobbs called War on the Middle Class and here's what he has to say about American healthcare:

A CNN Gallup poll from 2005 said that Americans ranked health care as their second most important priority, right after terrorism. Employers used to provide up to 69% of their employees health care and now they provide 60%. Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the United States it has an absolutely pathetic and disgraceful plan which most of its employees can't afford, so they end up using Medicaid, which comes out of taxpayers' pockets. Premiums for Medicare for seniors and the disabled have increased and drug programs for seniors have become so complicated that many of them can't even choose an appropriate plan. Lastly, almost 50% of all bankruptcies are medically related and that doesn't refer to the 48 million people WITHOUT any insurance -- I'm talking about people with coverage. Co-pays and deductibles are so high that anyone who is sick long enough with something like cancer **could** be bankrupted unless he or she makes quite a bit of money.

So that's my two cents again along with some stats from Lou Dobbs -- not exactly someone you'd call a flaming radical.


Brian Kastel said...

Another slanted hatchet job by Moore. He is a one trick pony and the more he repeats his one trick over and over again it becomes plain to anyone with half a brain cell that he relies heavily on editing and taking comments out of context to make his point. He is a unhappy, bitter man who sets out to prove his point. He is certainly not a journalist in search of the truth. Keeping that in mind his movies are entertaining.

if you have a chance please check out my blog.

Sigrid Macdonald said...

Your blog's very interesting and your interests are quite diverse, Brian. From AIDWYC to PETA to Hilary Duff! Impressive.

But I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on Michael Moore. I definitely don't think he's a one trick pony or that Sicko was a slanted hatchet job. Nor do I find it very entertaining when people are sewing up their knees with needles and threads, and trying to decide which fingertip to keep.

Does Moore present his own point of view, edit, and slant things in such a way that they don't deserve to be called documentaries? Yes. He's an opinionated SOB. And as I mentioned earlier to the last anonymous poster, I don't think that Moore made a case for American healthcare that was REPRESENTATIVE of what all or most people there go through.

OTOH, many people have trouble with HMOs. They're denied coverage especially if they have pre-existing conditions. MM made that point very clearly. He's not a particularly subtle guy.

I like him. Sorry that you don't but I'm always interested in other people's opinions. Thanks for adding yours :-)