Sicko – SOS Message on target

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If you haven’t seen Sicko, by Michael Moore, then you must. It opened in the US on June 29 and now is also out in Paris (see here for listings). Surely, this is a message that will resound for all Americans living abroad, experiencing some form or other of universal aka socialized healthcare. And, I had the feeling that Moore is keen to have the “Tommy Douglas” tag for the US (as the one responsible for bringing in universal healthcare) with this film.

As Moore says, “This film is a call to action,” Moore said at a press conference on Saturday. “It’s also not a partisan film.” Certainly, the action points in the letter Michael Moore on his site are precise and, presumably, may help initiate a wave of support.

The press reviews of Sicko were, somewhat predictably, all across the board. The Fox News critique is surprisingly ebullient. But clearly, there is also a lot of criticism in the blogosphere for this film. At the bottom is a cross section of recent blogs on the topic.

That said, if his tone is considered to be less inflammatory, the style of interviewing ‘random’ people is anything but quantitative. The film cites the national health policies of Canada, France and England, the three countries, in addition to the US, in which we have lived as a family over the last ten years. [It also takes a group of suffering 9/11 rescuers to Cuba in the most controversial portion of the film; but I have never been to Cuba]. Had Moore interviewed us and asked for a fair and comparative appraisal of these three countries, we surely would not have given as rosy a picture. Considering the cogency of the message, I would argue that he didn’t need to discredit his story by adding non-representative cases.

For example, on the Canadian story, he was vastly overdoing the strength of their program. He visited the London Ontario hospital and determined that there was no waiting time–he should have come visit the 3+ hour waits at some of the hospitals in Montreal. The Canadian media has been all over Moore for his overly optimistic portrayal of the Canadian system. This Toronto Star article sums up the point.

Regarding France, Moore’s describes a French couple with 7000E/month in revenues as a “middle class”; that is a substantial increase above the average in France and that couple did not appear to be representative of the typical French taxpayer. Plus, as anyone living in France knows, it’s the connections that one entertains that help “optimize” your revenues (manner of speaking). In both Canada and France, we have experienced personally waiting times as long as one year for certain services. While in Canada, I was given a 6 month wait for surgery on my painful right shoulder (I ultimately avoided surgery through the master hands of a Active Release Therapy practitioner in Hamilton Ontario: Anthony Lombardi. Even if someone is prepared to pay for the treatment, sometimes there is a long wait, and many people go overseas for more rapid treatment (as long as they can truly afford it).

In England, the critics of the NHS are vocal. I remember hearing about how some older people were not given treatment because “they were just too old.” And, in the reverse, in France, our 82 year old aunt receives the visit of a nurse every day for an injection to “revive her bones.” BTW She also gets the visit of a cleaning lady for 1 euro per visit (that’s thanks to the Mairie).

On balance, I have to say that I approve of the film’s message. I was rather stunned that he chose not to lay into the lawsuit issues that have surely contributed to the escalating doctor’s fees (higher insurance coverage, etc.). The existence of medical malpractice and class action suits is important for protecting the individual. However, the excesses in payouts are, in my mind, intolerable. The minimalistic legal protection of an individual in France is, on the other hand, not very modern or acceptable.

So, what are the chances that Sicko brings national healthcare to the US? The timing of the release ahead of the elections is very appropriate. It will be interesting to track the debate on line as well as to see who/how the candidates take up the issue.

Sonic Cinema review – “maybe Moore’s best film since ‘Roger & Me'”
Francois Tremblay – Check your facts
Fabrice Grinda – discusses Steve Case’s RevolutionHealth
Free market cure – What should be done
Idaho Fallz – This is a thread on the film with well over 200 comments already
‘No interference’ proposal for health care in an article entitled “No Right to Free Healthcare” from Dr Ghate, PhD Philosophy from Ayn Rand Institute.

4 Comments, RSS

  1. John Whiteside

    People here in the US like to point out how much Canadians and Britons, in particularly, complain about their health programs. The follow-up question – how many would like to have the US system instead – is rarely asked? Both countries certainly have serious issues to deal with on health care, but some baseline of coverage for all is still a significant thing when compared to the millions of Americans with nothing – or the self-employed like me who have to write a hefty check each month for very basic insurance to protect ourselves from catastrophic illness or injury!

  2. c'est moi

    Living on the frontiers of civilization, not directing my satellite tele at commercial programs, and only ocassionally being able to pick up a current newspaper, I had no idea that Moore had put out Sicko. It is a film I will be interested to see when it hits the video release stage. Given the timing of the American release, I would suspect that will be around Christmas. I know a bit about the British health care system from family over there. I am intimately aware of the shortcoming of the Canadian system, particularly if, like me, you live in remote locations that are underserviced by health care professionals. I have little to no knowledge of French health care beyond having read somewhere recently that it was an enviable system. Anyway, my point in all this is to thank you for the interesting report and to say that I will look forward to seeing this film in the near future.

  3. Minter

    Nice point John. It would be interesting to see if other countries would like to take on the US system. That said, some people with money, vote with their feet by going to the US for the superior treatment (including rapidity of service). There is much to be said about the amazing research (and funding) that goes on in the US. We should seek not to throw out the baby with the bath water. The easy task was for me to say “I agree”. The real challenge, which I am not well enough equipped to argue, is HOW to achieve such a program. Ideas are cheap.

  4. Minter

    Just to let you know about a very civilized debate held between Dr. Onkar Ghate (Ayn Rand Institute) and Dr Katherine Swartz, Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and a proponent of “universal” health care can be downloaded as a podcast from BusinessWeek’s Debate Room:

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