Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Fitting Title

Sicko, Michael Moore's latest documentary film, is funny, sad, and maddening all at the same time. But above all, it's simply sickening.

If you don't know already, it's a documentary about the healthcare industry. It starts off by examining a few stories about America's not-so-secret dirty little secret: The nearly 50 million of us who are uninsured. There's certainly enough there to make as much sickening film as Michael Moore could possibly dream of. But that wouldn't be ambitious. That wouldn't be Michael Moore. No, Moore's style lies in biting off what seems to be more than he can chew about the topic he's covering, and then proceeding to rip it to shreds.

So he dismisses the 50 million uninsured American's by nonchalantly saying, "But this story isn't about them." And that's when he dives head-first into the real dirty little secret: That even if you are fully insured, the healthcare industry is still a nightmare. And Moore makes that fact seem even more sickening than the fact that a sixth of us are uninsured.

Insurance companies, it turns out, have a system of denying care that one former HMO employee rightly described as "labyrinthine." There's a list of pre-existing conditions a mile long that automatically make you ineligible. If your body mass index is too low or too high (in other words, if you're too fat or too skinny) you're denied. There are mountains of paperwork for even the simplest of claims. And if they fail to weed you out with all of that and end up paying for your care, they can continue looking for ways to retroactively deny you and reverse the payment. They have teams of people that scour medical records for anything that can be used to retroactively deny care (this was done to one woman, for example, because she had once had a yeast infection and hadn't reported it as a past "serious ailment" on her application). This system is held in place because the industry has four lobbyists for every member of Congress, and they have consistently been able to pay off every politician that goes to Capitol Hill, including their old rival, Hillary Clinton, who was a crusader for universal healthcare during her husband's presidency, but who is now #2 on the Senate payroll from healthcare groups. Sickening, yes?

But still, Moore's ambition is not sated. In order to really drive the point home to Americans, he knows he must not only show them that their system is broken, but that there are others that are better. And so, throughout the film, he profiles the universal healthcare systems of Canada, England, and France, which turn out to be so much better than ours that you absolutely have to see it to believe it.

And even then, he's still not done. The last portion of the film uproots whatever is left of your conviction that America's healthcare system works. If I were to say anything about it at all, it would spoil it for you. I wouldn't do that.

Suffice it to say that every minute of the film Sicko makes you more and more deeply convinced that America's healthcare system simply sucks. But all hope, Moore says, is not lost. It's a problem that we can fix. After all, we're America. If other nations have nailed down this concept, surely the birthplace of modern democracy, the wealthiest nation on Earth, can do it. The first step, as AA might say, is admitting we have a problem - which this film doesn't simply speculate on, but proves. That's why I implore anyone who reads this to watch Sicko.

(As an aside, don't believe the mainstream Democratic candidates when they say they have a plan for "universal healthcare" because, sadly, their plans are just to make sure everyone has insurance, and don't address the real problem revealed by Sicko - that that insurance system is crap. Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate who seems to actually have a universal healthcare plan, and that's one of many reasons why I think he's the best.)


Rainier96 said...

Very interesting. I haven't seen the movie, but you've talked me into going.

I'll let you know my reaction once I've seen it. My impression is that there's a lot of unhappiness about the British system, among the British. And my impression also is that it's probably much fairer than ours in providing basic medical care to the entire country -- which we desperately need -- but maybe doesn't provide the very high quality of specialized care to anyone that you can get in this country if you've got the money. (A question of values how important that seems, I guess.) Also, I've heard you have to wait a long time for surgical procedures, until there's a doctor available.

I don't know about the Canadian system.

But my ignorance on the subject is great, and I look forward to seeing Mr. Moore's latest.

Nice review.

Rainier96 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rainier96 said...

Well, I finally saw it. Wow! That was devastating. Moore has a way of being extremely entertaining, and still leaving you profoundly ashamed of belonging to a society that does such a poor job of caring for so many people on such a basic matter as providing health care.

A great movie, and Moore has a great talent at personalizing big problems, so you can't view them just in the abstract, but have to see how they hit real people for whom you have to feel compassion.