Sick in America
I’m not a big Michael Moore fan, but given the subject matter, I HAD to see Sicko. I’ve long viewed the alleged health care system in this country as one of its biggest failures, not only because I’ve encountered (and lost my battle with) the ludicrous list of pre-existing conditions that preclude a person from coverage, but also because it has always seemed outrageous to me that fifty million people in the world’s richest country could be uninsured.
As my husband and I sat through the film, we watched incredulously as we discovered that the extent of the corruption, collusion, and cold-bloodedness of this fatally flawed “system” went far beyond even our worst nightmares. Because, as Moore points out early in the film, this story isn’t about the UNinsured, a fact of life in this country too disgraceful to warrant discussion; it’s about the two hundred and fifty million who believe they’re protected, until they actually need something more than a routine office visit. That’s when the real tragedy strikes, as providers search for any reason to deny coverage, either through some arcane technicality, or by uncovering some previously minor and unrelated medical condition from twenty years back that no one would ever think to report.
The film is most heart-wrenching as real people tell their stories: the man who has to choose between which of his fingers to save based on price; the woman whose husband dies because the bone marrow transplant he needs to survive is denied, deemed as experimental surgery by the hospital for which she herself works. It’s most shameful when an HMO strips a patient of their last shred of dignity, as when Kaiser dumps a sick and helplessly disoriented patient out of a cab onto a sidewalk, and most reprehensible when the former Humana claims director, testifying before a congressional hearing, explains how she was consistently rewarded for upping Humana’s profit margin by denying care to supposedly fully covered patients.
Then Moore attempts to dispel the myth we’ve all been fed by our government, seemingly forever, that universal healthcare is far more horrifying then what we have now. His use of humor works best here, from hauling out the “Red Scare” propaganda from the 50s to innocently walking around a British hospital inquiring, “You mean, we don’t have to pay?” It succeeded brilliantly in the theater, when all we saw was the flagship hospital in Cuba, and the best-case scenarios in Canada and Great Britain. But I remember Michael Moore from the manipulative Fahrenheit 9/11, so I did my research before I began to write. And this is where, once again, he underestimates his audience’s ability to come to terms with the complicated gray areas, so he simply leaves them out. None of these systems is as perfect as portrayed in Sicko. Canadians and the British complain often about the long wait times for surgery, and the showcase hospital in Havana is the only one of its kind in that country. Beyond that, while health care and drugs might be free in Cuba, speech, the press, and elections are not.
Notwithstanding the above criticism, Moore has shone a high-beam flashlight on the shameful mess in this country (which also includes its failure to provide prescription drugs, child care, adequate maternity leave, or higher education to its citizens). It’s extremely difficult to pursue the happiness we are guaranteed when we are bankrupted or stressed beyond endurance by the cost (or lack) of the services every other western nation freely provides.
If it calls the American public to action, Moore’s efforts must be applauded. While there are clearly some flaws in the health care systems of other countries, they still make our greed-based system look corrupt, as well as pathetic, by comparison. In fact, I believe that despite its sins of omission, this film should be required viewing for anyone who plans to vote in the next election. As one of the interviewees in the movie said, “The Americans talk about family values, but THESE are family values.” She was right.
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