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Sicko review (Michael Moore documentary)

Updated on November 7, 2010
OECD Figures, 2004.
OECD Figures, 2004.
OECD Figures, 2004.
OECD Figures, 2004.

Sicko review

I just saw Michael Moore's Sicko, lucky enough to see its screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and was deeply moved by this tragic portrayal of the disastrous state of our very expensive (see the stats to the right, below), but poorly-managed health care system.

The film walks viewers through several parts, each underscoring that what we call health care in the US is structured badly:

  • People taking severe cuts to their standard of living because they were not covered by health insurance, including one man who had to choose to save only one of two fingers severed in an accident (a modern variation of Sophie's Choice, I guess)
  • People getting care unapproved for payment, including one for an ambulance, and another because she didn't disclose having a yeast infection years before
  • Medical directors, applicant reviewers, medical boards, and "health insurance company sleuths" to deny applicants, deny treatments and even scour through medical records to retroactively deny payment for care - health care companies even incentivize doctors to deny treatment
  • Hillarycare and the war against "Socialist medicine", including a tract from 1960s era Ronald Reagan, and Nixon's support for the for-profit model.
  • The high degree of commingling of political and health care business interests (lobbyists becoming politicians and vice versa)
  • How the Canadian, British and French systems work, and how even Americans manage to benefit from their systems. One young woman in France says she feels guilty for the high degree of care she enjoys there while her parents have worked their whole lives in the US for a vastly inferior system. Moore, commonly derided as anti-American by rightists, makes a point of presenting Canadians and French who are pro-American and even conservative, but that still think of universal healthcare as unquestionable.
  • Americans live shorter lives and have higher incidences of diseases than other countries that have socialized medicine. We have the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world, with Detroit's rate higher than El Salvador's.
  • How a fragmented, decentralized system dumps people from hospital care at clinics' doors when they don't have the means to pay anymore.
  • 9/11 firemen and volunteers that, years after being heralded as heroes, are now struggling with health issues that they can't afford to pay for. Moore takes them to Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo) since the government brags that the quality of alleged enemy combatants' care is much better.
  • After being turned away, the 9/11 heroes are treated by Cuban doctors, not paying at all for treatment, and one woman paying the equivalent of 5 cents for an inhaler she had to pay $120 for in the U.S. That brought her to tears. A local Cuban fire station honored them, as well, dispelling the myth that Cubans (like the French and Canadians) are viscerally anti-American.
  • A nice final touch that lifts you from almost killing yourself out of depression is an anecdote, rich with irony, in which an anti-Michael Moore site was almost shut down because the founder couldn't afford to run the site and pay for his wife's medical bills. When Moore offered to pay and was dealt a big F-U by the site founder, he sent a check anonymously. The site rages on to this day.

It doesn't have to be this way

The most instructive point of this movie is to make Americans realize that it doesn't have to be this way. Healthcare costs amount to 17.3% of GDP and projected to rise to 20% by 2015 (article)? Only 83% of Americans have health insurance, and even that 83%'s care seems tenuous?

The fact that's demonstrated by the movie, and readily-available statistics, is that we can have far better care, have 100% of people covered AND pay less. What that would require would be completely restructuring a system that has all the wrong incentives.

I lived in the Netherlands for 2 years and enjoyed medical care that was at least as good as what I have here. And the Dutch pay half of what we pay, and everyone's covered.

My only criticism

The only thing I was expecting Moore to include is that we pay so much more than the other countries profiled. The closest is France, which still only pays about half as much as we do, and remember, their relatively extravagant system pays for nannies, doctor house visits, etc.

However, the movie does a wonderful job of bringing this issue to the fore, educating people about how bad things are and how much better it can be, and hopefully to provoke a discussion. And hopefully this is an issue that we can discuss without having to endure character assassinations and other distractions about the filmmaker.


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