"Sicko", or the American Health Care system

The words "health care" and "comedy" aren't usually found in the same sentence, but in Academy Award winning filmmaker Michael Moore's new movie 'SiCKO,' they go together hand in (rubber) glove.

While Moore's 'SiCKO' follows the trailblazing path of previous hit films, the Oscar-winning BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and all-time box-office documentary champ FAHRENHEIT 9/11, it is also something very different for Michael Moore. 'SiCKO' is a straight-from-the-heart portrait of the crazy and sometimes cruel U.S. health care system, told from the vantage of everyday people faced with extraordinary and bizarre challenges in their quest for basic health coverage.

In the tradition of Mark Twain or Will Rogers, 'SiCKO' uses humor to tell these compelling stories, leading the audience to conclude that an alternative system is the only possible answer. 

Documentary film maker Micheal Moore had to keep a lot of the details of his newest movie, Sicko, under wraps until it was released. “Sicko” goes after the Bush administration, when pharmaceutical companies found out Moore’s next topic was privatized health care, they locked their doors and hid.

Nonetheless, Moore was able to deliver a powerful documentary that shows that the United States is one of the worst places in the world to get sick. If you can’t pay for it, you probably won’t get the help you need like you would in many other countries in the world. Listen to Amanda and Devan talk about “Sicko” and health care.

You can find piles of stuff on Micheal Moore's site: http://www.michaelmoore.com/

"Sicko": A synopsis


According to Sicko, almost fifty million Americans are uninsured and those who are covered are often victims of insurance company fraud and red tape. Interviews are conducted with people who thought they had adequate coverage but were denied care. Former employees of insurance companies describe cost-cutting initiatives that give bonuses to insurance company physicians and others to find reasons for the company to avoid meeting the cost of medically necessary treatments for policy holders, and thus increase company profitability.

In Canada, Moore describes the case of Tommy Douglas, who was voted the greatest Canadian in 2004 for his contributions to the Canadian health system. Moore also interviews a microsurgeon and people waiting in the emergency room of a Canadian public hospital.

Against the backdrop of the history of the American health care debate, opponents of universal health care are set in the context of 1950s-style anti-communist propaganda. A 1960s record distributed by the American Medical Association and narrated by Ronald Reagan warns that universal health care could lead to communism. In response, Moore shows that socialized public services like police, fire service, postal service, public education and community libraries have not led to communism in the United States.

The origins of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973 are presented using a taped conversation between John Ehrlichman and President Richard Nixon on February 17, 1971; Ehrlichman is heard telling Nixon that "...the less care they give them, the more money they make", a plan that Nixon remarked "fine" and "not bad". This led to the expansion of the modern HMO-based health care system. Connections are highlighted between Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the lobbying arm of the largest drug companies in the United States, lobbying groups in Washington D.C., and the United States Congress. Hillary Clinton, a champion of the Clinton health care plan, is shown as a crusader for change, appointed to reform the health care system in the United States by her husband, newly elected President Bill Clinton. Her efforts are met with heavy-handed criticisms by Republicans on Capitol Hill, and right-wing media throughout the country, who characterize her plan as the harbinger of socialism. When she is defeated, her punishment is to "never speak of it again while in the White House." Seven years later, her silence is rewarded, as she becomes a Senator for the State of New York, a victory made possible in part by money from the health care industry; she is second only to Rick Santorum as the Senate's highest recipient of health care industry campaign donations.

In the United Kingdom, a country whose National Health Service is a comprehensive publicly-funded health care system, Moore interviews patients and inquires about in-hospital expenses incurred by patients, only to be told that there are no out-of-pocket payments. Moore visits a UK pharmacy, where pharmaceuticals are free of charge for persons under 16 or over 60, and subsidised in most cases for everyone else; only a fixed amount of £6.65 (about $10.00) per item on a prescription is charged, irrespective of cost to the NHS. Further, NHS hospitals employ a cashier, part of whose job is to reimburse low-income patients for their out-of-pocket travel costs to the hospital. Interviews include an NHS general practitioner, an American woman residing in London, and Tony Benn, a Labour politician and former Member of Parliament. Benn compares a hypothetical attempt to dismantle the NHS with reversing women's suffrage and says it would result in a revolution.

In France, Moore visits a hospital and interviews the head of obstetrics and gynaecology and a group of American expatriates. Moore rides with the "SOS Médecins", a 24-hour French medical service that provides house calls by physicians.Moore discovers that the French government provides many social services, such as health care, public education (including universities), vacation and day care for $1 an hour and neonatal support that includes cooking, cleaning, and laundry services for new mothers.

Returning to the United States, interviews disclose that 9/11 rescue workers who volunteered after the September 11, 2001 attacks were denied government funds to care for physical and psychological maladies they subsequently developed, including respiratory disease and PTSD. Unable to receive and afford medical care in the U.S., the 9/11 rescue workers, as well as all of Moore's friends in the film needing medical attention, appear to sail from Miami to Cuba on three speedboats in order to obtain free medical care provided for the enemy combatants detained at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detainment camp. The group arrives at the entrance channel to "Gitmo" and Moore uses a megaphone to request access, pleading for the 9/11 victims to receive treatment that is on par with the medical attention the "evildoers" are receiving. The attempt ceases when a siren is blown from the base, and the group moves on to Havana, where they purchase inexpensive medicine and receive free medical treatment Providing only their name and birth date, the volunteers are hospitalized and receive medical attention. Before they leave, the 9/11 rescue workers are honored by a local Havana fire station.

Finally, Moore addresses the audience, emphasizing that people should be "taking care of each other, no matter the differences". To demonstrate his personal commitment to this theme, Moore decides to help one of his biggest critics, Jim Kenefick, webmaster of MooreWatch. According to a blog posting, Kenefick feared he may have to shut down his anti-Moore website because he needed US $12,000 to cover the costs of medical treatment for his sick wife. Not wanting the U.S. health care system to trump Kenefick's ability to express his opinion, Moore sends Kenefick the money anonymously.

This film ends with Moore walking towards the United States Capitol with a basket full of his clothes, sarcastically claiming he will get the government to do his laundry until a better day comes for the sick and hopeless who are unable to receive health care.

Some facts from the film

Discuss any of the topics!

There are nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance.

Hillary Clinton became the second largest recipient in the Senate of health care industry contributions.

Drug industry money to members of Congress, and the president, who led the effort to pass the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

The Medicare Part D plan will hand over $800 billion of our tax dollars to the drug and health insurance industry.

The elderly could end up paying more for their prescription drugs than they did before under Part D - and a majority of senior citizens could still pay over $2000 a year.

Fourteen Congressional aides went to work for the industry; Billy Tauzin left Congress to become CEO of PhRMA for a $2 million annual salary.

Canadians live three years longer than we do.

Drugs in England only cost $10.

In a study of older Americans and Brits, the Brits had less of almost every major disease. Even the poorest Brit can expect to live longer than the richest American.

A baby born in El Salvador has a better chance of surviving than a baby born in Detroit.

Around 65 percent of young Americans can't find Britain on a map.

Like Canadians and Brits, the French live longer than Americans do.

The government initially refused to pay for the health care of 9/11 volunteers, because they were not on the government payroll. It remains difficult for the volunteers to access the $50 million fund that has been appropriated for their care.