See Sicko

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entertainment and popular culture, Health Care

I believe Sicko opens today nationwide, so be sure to see it over this long weekend.

Ari Melber responds to a criticism of the film from Dean Barnett. You remember Barnett; he’s the twit who thinks fertilized eggs are people, but soldiers aren’t, and of course women are merely major appliances. Barnett makes the knee-jerk assumption that Moore made the film to elect Democrats.

Melber points out that Moore probably is harder on Hillary Clinton than he is on George Bush in this film. I’ll let Melber continue (emphasis added) —

These are not the kind of stories that prime people to think of partisan affiliations or presidential campaigns. If anything, the genuine human struggles in “Sicko” raise questions about our society that run much deeper than what passes for political discourse today.

Why does such a rich nation let people suffer and die without health care? If we truly value the Americans who risked their lives on Sept. 11, why do some struggle without treatment for injuries they sustained while trying to keep us safe? And in the toughest challenge for American exceptionalists, why do so many other countries do a better job of providing care to all of their citizens? (Specifically, 36 countries, according to the World Health Organization.)

These questions probably won’t send people running from the theater to endorse a particular health care policy. Yet “Sicko” could drive the public to demand a realistic national debate on how to achieve quality care for all Americans, and to reject the recurring political attacks on the people working toward this admirable goal.

The recent personal attacks on Moore – and other health care reformers, such as former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) – are in line with the vacuous scare tactics that have stifled health care policy long before the Clinton administration attempted reform. The detractors typically don’t offer solutions or engage reformers’ ideas. They don’t join the vital debate over how our public policy should value every human life. They just defend the status quo and launch personal attacks.

This brings us back to Mr. Barnett’s Politico column. It offers a conservative’s supposed concern that the intricate politics of “Sicko” will backfire on Democrats (why would he care?). Then it recycles the canard that Edwards should not help the poor because he is wealthy. (By that logic, Americans with good health care shouldn’t help anyone else, and cities with solid homeland security shouldn’t collaborate to defend more vulnerable areas.)

But after 800 words, Mr. Barnett fails to say anything about health care policy, or whether the Sept. 11 rescue workers deserve assistance or whether the U.S. should even try to improve our world health rankings. The column, like so many attacks on health care reformers, ignores the issues and gloomily accepts America’s dismal health care condition – and then labels Moore as the pessimist. “Smart politicians would avoid him like the plague,” concludes Mr. Barnett.

Here it’s painfully obvious that Mr. Barnett didn’t see the movie or didn’t get it. The issue is not how “smart politicians” position themselves – the public could not care less. The issue is what our nation can do about a health care crisis that leads to the needless suffering and death of our fellow citizens. They are the ones who have to avoid a real “plague,” since they can’t count on decent treatment when they get sick.

I’ve read a number of reviews that complain Sicko is one-sided and that Moore doesn’t always explain where he gets his facts. To this I say, first, that the more you know about what’s going on in American health care, the more you realize the “other” side is indefensible. Second, Moore said very little that I hadn’t already learned in my own research. I can’t swear the film is without factual error, but overall the way it portrays U.S. healthcare is accurate. Moore may be guilty of oversimplifying — the Canadian and British health care systems do have some problems that aren’t discussed in the film. But Moore is also an entertainer. This is a theatrical film, not a presentation for policy wonks.

But most of the bad reviews I’ve read amount to sputtering defenses of the status quo and personal attacks on Michael Moore. What the critics never ever do is honestly address the problem of people who can’t get insurance, or our crumbling emergency rooms, or our dismal health data. They just make excuses.

Clarence Page writes:

Numerous congressional proposals have offered wider, less-expensive and more-reliable coverage than Americans receive from our current patchwork, employer-based system.

But no matter how workable, practical or desirable the proposals may be, the insurance industry reliably shoots them down. Armed with billions of dollars for political campaign contributions, spin doctors and attack ads, the industry has largely steered the nation’s health care debate for decades.

Mr. Moore evens things up a bit. He uses the same pop culture that brings you Paris Hilton and American Idol to offer something truly valuable: a vision of a better American health care system than the one we have.

The fact is that whatever truncated national discussion we’ve had about health care going back as far as I remember has been entirely one sided. It’s the health care industry saying we have the Best Health Care in the World, and if you don’t agree you must be a Communist. End of discussion.

He offers something else that most Americans never see: how easily anyone – including visitors – can access good public health care in Canada and Europe and how satisfied those country’s citizens are with their systems. Critics predictably charge Mr. Moore with sugar-coating his view of the other countries, particularly Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s government still affords superior care to favored Communist Party elites. Nevertheless, having witnessed health care in each of the countries Mr. Moore visits, I think he got it about right.

In Canada and Europe, customer satisfaction is high, despite the drawbacks. Defenders of our health care status quo come up with one horror story after another of long lines, waiting lists, rising costs or rationed care. But they don’t like to talk about the long lines, waiting lists, rising costs or rationed care that Americans face in our existing system. Mr. Moore’s movie does.

Nobody’s system is perfect. But despite the smear job that conservatives over here give to British health care, for example, stalwart conservatives over there aren’t mounting much of an effort to change it.

If the film does nothing else but get people to realize it doesn’t have to be this way, it has done its job.

Update:
See Crooks & Liars about a hit piece on Sicko in the Los Angeles Times.

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16 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Sheila Levine  •  Jun 30, 2007 @1:56 am

    Why would you want people to see this movie “Sicko?” Why are you supporting socialized medicine?

    First of all, 4 out of 5 Americans are satisfied with the health care system, so it is really a non-issue (this will likely be the reason the movie flops).

    Second, collectivized, totalitarian provision of goods and services by a centralized government which redistributes wealth based on “need” is itself the most sickening thing an American could ever support and you should be utterly ashamed of yourself for it. People are not born with any “right” to health care, nor any “right” to any other product of the human mind which depends upon the willing, voluntary cooperation of another human being.

    The answer to your “problem” is this: get rid of the governmental over-regulation, the restrictive licensing, the state supported tort threat, the unionism, and all other legislative and regulatory phenomena which are essentially conferring a monopoly to those currently in the business. This will promote competition, competition drives quality up, prices down, and everyone wins. Monopolies discourage competition (indeed, sometimes deliberately destroy it), drive quality down, innovation down, prices up, and everyone… EVERYONE… loses. (By the way, that is the answer to ANY problem in the free market, not just health care, so re-read it. And learn it. Spread the word.)

    Use reason and logic, for once in your life. And while you’re at it, use them all the time, too.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 30, 2007 @5:48 am

    The tip-off for conservative’s should be that no other country in the world is saying, “Hey, let’s change to the American system! It’s the best!!!”

    Here’s the great American system. HMO’s hell-bent on preventing payment to make greater profit’s. Ruinous credit policies if people use credit to pay for emergencies. Drug companies and Doctor’s allowed to advertize (I knew that was a bad idea the minute it was proposed). And a host of other really stupid talking point’s used by conservatives who care more for profit than for the nation’s health. Even corporations are starting to get wise. And that may be the tipping-point.

    Hopefully, this movie will help to change that. I think it might. I can’t see it this weekend – my neice has an oboe solo at a concert in College Point, MD, but I’ll see it this week.

    “A cup of water, and no butter or salt on my popcorn, please…”

  3. maha  •  Jun 30, 2007 @6:06 am

    Sheila — there’s a difference between “reason and logic” and “regurgitating what you’ve been brainwashed to believe.” See if you can figure out what that is.

  4. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 30, 2007 @6:22 am

    Sheila,
    You need facts to use reason and logic. You might want to look into getting some. Please tell me where the, “4 out of 5 American’s are satisfied,” statistic comes from? Mabe it’s legitimate. I want to know.
    Here’s a fact for you. Almost 2 out of 3 American’s don’t agree with George Bush. Fact: http://www.pollingreport.com/BushJob.htm
    See? That’s how it’s done. It’s easy. Try GOOGLE. Or any other search engine. Otherwise, all you’re doing is spouting rightie talking points.

    BTW – Government control over corporations is critical. Without them, business will run amuck. Just look around you.
    ‘Nuff said…

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Jun 30, 2007 @6:25 am

    Sheila,
    Before you get too excited, and accuse me of being illiterate, that should read “maybe,” in the first paragraph.

  6. UpstairsNeighbour  •  Jun 30, 2007 @12:02 pm

    Sheila – thanks, first of all, for a great thread-starter. I’m Canadian, I’ve lived in the Czech Republic and South Korea, and have gotten great care without private insurance anywhere I have lived. It does come out of taxes, but I feel no real deprivation in terms of my purchasing power (actually got a $2500 tax refund this year, and our federal government has been running surpluses more than deficits lately).

    Most people in the industrialized world can relax in the awareness that the government provides the basic conditions for a good society to flourish, including roads, sewage systems, military and police protection, courts of law, and a well-educated, healthy workforce. If universal health care isn’t a right, it certainly is economically smart. It provides a baseline for an active society.

    It rocks, basically. It’s *way* worth paying higher taxes. People think of the cost of taxes imposed without realizing how they would no longer have to carry their own healthcare costs. It’s not a matter of dependency, its mutual aid or reciprocal altruism. The strong support the weak, knowing that no one is strong forever.

    You should do some math, if you think 4 out of 5 Americans being satisfied with their healthcare is insignificant. Also, how many of those 4 simply (before Sicko) had no sense of the alternatives?

  7. UpstairsNeighbour  •  Jun 30, 2007 @12:10 pm

    Another thought, competition in health insurance might be a good thing, but isn’t there something skewed about a market where the the cost of exit is death? Maybe some economist reading this can help out, but ‘pay or die’ isn’t a choice, it’s extortion, and so the suppliers only have to be about as crappy as all of the others, knowing you have to pick one of them.

    With a hybrid system – universal public coverage with an opt-out provision, private insurance companies would have to offer *real* value, in order to lure people away from the public system. That would create the efficiencies of a market, I think…

    In other words, to make the market competitive (non-economist struggling with concepts here), introducing a live-option alternative to *all* private coverage might get around the contradiction Michael Moore describes between profit and the provision of care…

  8. mishu  •  Jun 30, 2007 @12:45 pm

    The LA Times article busts open moore’s hypocrisy. He waxes poetic on how his profits enable his freedom to deliver what he believes is a better product however private insurance companies profits are, of course, evil. Tyranny of “artists” in a nutshell.

  9. maha  •  Jun 30, 2007 @12:56 pm

    Mishu — your approval of the L.A. Times article shows you don’t get it. This argument is not about capitalism versus socialism; it’s about what works in the real world and what doesn’t. Capitalism and free enterprise are great at some things but not everything. As Moore says, we have “socialized” police and fire protection, so what’s the deal with health care?

    BTW, your next comment (deleted) landed you back in the twit filter. Sorry. I clear it out every six months or so and start over, so check back around Christmastime.

  10. UpstairsNeighbour  •  Jun 30, 2007 @4:18 pm

    I wish an economist would breeze by this blog, at least to provide us some of the terminology around these ideas, even if she/he disagreed with the points… Moore is pointing out that when you are sick, it is a pure cost or pure loss… there is no way to make that loss of productivity and consumptions of medical resources into a gain. So any profit-based health insurance company can only ever hold and attract investment dollars by minimizing those costs/losses. Ideally this would be by providing the services most efficiently, but the incentives are strong to actually ratchet back the level of service… especially because if all of the competitors reduce their service to the same crappy level, buyers are still forced to buy – so that compulsion to buy must also have a name in economics, and it must mess up the whole idea of an efficient market…

    But this is all an argument *within* capitalism. Except for pure libertarians, most people feel that there is *some* role for governments in capitalist economies.

  11. UpstairsNeighbour  •  Jun 30, 2007 @4:31 pm

    Actually, I just read a really good point at the blog below:

    http://bradhicks.livejournal.com/348604.html?thread=4754876#t4754876
    ———————————–
    joxn wrote: My point is this, of course: the basic healthcare that everyone needs to stay alive and healthy is not something which an insurance policy is designed to handle. Insurance policies are for rare but statistically definable events. But basic healthcare is not rare — although it is statistically definable: everyone will have to have it, and in the case of preventive care, they’ll have to use it for it to be beneficial.
    —————————-

    That would mean that risk-pooling may not be the right way to think of health provision at all – maybe pure reciprocal altruism – an anathema to those who hate the notion that human beings depend on each other (or should be able to…)

  12. maha  •  Jun 30, 2007 @4:53 pm

    Upstairs Neighbor — thank you for your comments and links. They are very useful.

    Awhile back I wrote a couple of posts on the U.S. “system” called “Demand Supply” and “Unhealthy Care,” in which I argued that the “system” is skewed toward creating profitable health care products and providing boutique services to people with means to pay for them, but our capacity to provide basic health care — including hospital emergency rooms — is being allowed to rot because they are not profitable.

    It’s so screwed up now that even if we all woke up tomorrow morning and found that the Good Health Care Fairy had brought us a single payer system, it will take years before the capacity to provide essential services catches up to demand.

  13. A Canadian Reader  •  Jul 1, 2007 @11:10 am

    OMG, I actually went to Sheila’s website. She’s braindead or is infected with a major virus that stops her from seeing anything resembling reality.

    Reading her post (mostly written in fact by another zombie named Valenti) was a sickening experience.

  14. UpstairsNeighbour  •  Jul 1, 2007 @1:03 pm

    Banking… maybe banking is a better metaphor for health care provision than either insurance or strict “payment” (i.e. the populist conservative retort “Why should I ‘pay’ for your drug rehab?”).

    It’s not a perfect metaphor – but an interesting one. Banks take in money and lend out money, keeping enough in the pot for the predicted cash flow while having the rest of out in the community working. I’m thinking Jimmy Stewart here, in the plea he makes during the bank run in “It’s a Wonderful Life”…

    A national health care system is actually kind of like a national health bank. Taxpayers can be paying into it or they can borrow its resources by consuming services. Rather than using that value to build wealth, they build health. Maintaining health lets them work more productively and contribute through taxes back to the system. Rather than just their own wealth or assets increasing, the overall economy grows…

    Ack! I don’t know!! But I do like the idea of that Jimmy Stewart clip used in the argument for universal health care.

  15. delta  •  Jul 3, 2007 @1:21 pm

    “Sicko” is not shown anywhere in our state. Had to drive 250 miles to see the movie which was being shown at only 1 theater in a large city. My question is: What or who determines whether a film will be available in an area? What is the criteria? Do politics enter in?

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