Sicko, Moore, and Socialized Medicine

I saw Sicko Friday night and I have to say it is Moore’s best film. It’s much less propagandistic than his others. He also does a better job connecting the many idea threads he throws out there.

In the film he relates the horror stories of people who thought they were insured. One woman took her 18-month-old daughter, who was running a very high fever, to King-Drew hospital in L.A. Her insurance company Kaiser Permanente told her they wouldn’t pay for her daughter’s care because she hadn’t taken her to a Kaiser hospital. King-Drew refused to treat because they wouldn’t be paid. The woman demanded treatment. King-Drew threw her out. She took a cab to a Kaiser hospital. By then it was too late. Her daughter had slipped into a coma and then died a half-hour after being brought to the Kaiser hospital. As the father of a toddler, this story hit me very hard in the heart.

Then there are the stories of the 9/11 volunteers who can’t get treatment for their ailments. This filled me with even more outrage.

I do believe there is something morally wrong with the CEO of an insurance company making $22 million a year. Why is it that other Western industrialized nations view health care as essential to human existence (like public education) but not the U.S.? I think the answer has partly to due with the fact that we have so much faith in the free market system that we’re not comfortable ceding control to a centralized system and we have an innate hatred of taxes. The latter despite the fact that health insurance premiums are effectively a tax on people and employers. The former despite the fact that profits don’t measure health or happiness. We’ve also been fed a lot of propaganda about the “deplorable conditions” of European health care systems. Moore does an excellent job of showing the role of the AMA and Ronald Reagan in killing the movement for socialized medicine back in the 1950’s.

So it’s no surprise that I would like to see universal health care in this country.

But I am not a big fan of Michael Moore or his style of “documentary.” His trip with the 9/11 volunteers to Cuba was a stunt. An effective one, allowing Castro to stick it to the U.S., no matter how irrational our foreign policy towards Cuba. Did Moore really think that if he showed up with a camera crew the Cuban government was going to deny treatment to those people? Of course not.

I have followed the debate between CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and Michael Moore himself. (You can read about it here, here, here, here, and here.

Even with the disagreements over figures and sources, CNN did not (nor could they or anyone else) dispute Moore’s fundamental argument: the U.S. Health care system is a mess that leaves over 40 million people without care, does not provide efficient needed care to those people who pay for health insurance, and is run for profit at the expense of the insured.

One thing Moore doesn’t do in the film is get the point of view of the insurance companies. A documentary (a dispassionate, non-grandstanding take) would have done so. For me, this is a big weakness. Insurance companies often help to negotiate down the prices hospitals charge for services. In some ways they are the only check against doctors over-prescribing or performing unneeded tests and procedures.

That said, I think I’m like a lot of people, who either have had first hand bad experiences with health insurance companies or have family and friends who have had bad experiences with health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, Moore takes a selective look at the health care systems of Canada, Britain, and France. He picks the worst examples from our system and compares them to the best examples from their systems. I’m sure someone could easily find the worst cases from those systems and compare them with the best of ours. He does not present a balanced view of socialized medicine nor of our own health care system. If we’re going to reform our system, then we need a more balanced, clear-eyed, view of both systems.

Go see “Sicko.” It is worth it. You’ll be rightly outraged at the failures of the U.S. health care system. Just keep in mind that Moore is a polemicist and provocateur not a documentary filmmaker.

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