Sunday, July 15, 2007

More Tears Than Laughs in Sicko by Michael Moore

A young child gets sick with an imminently treatable virus; her temperature soars to 104° yet the hospital refuses to treat her. She has a seizure, followed by cardiac arrest. Still no medical care. Eventually, she dies. Was this little girl an impoverished Haitian? A rural African or better yet, an inner city kid from Detroit? No, she was a white American with health insurance whose carrier insisted that she be transported to another hospital within the network. How could that happen?

In his finest film to date, Michael Moore provides a devastating critique of the US health care system, or the lack thereof. He opens the movie by talking about the 50 million Americans who don't have any health insurance but quickly moves on to focus on the remaining 250 million who are insured, largely by health maintenance organizations whose sole goal is profit at any expense.

Moore traces the origin of the HMO to a highly inflammatory conversation that President Nixon had with an aide back in 1971 whereby Nixon announced that it would be a terrible idea for government to expand its role in health care but a wonderful prospect if it were to be privatized. And so we find ourselves in the sorry state that we have today where people work their asses off, believing that they will be protected if they get sick but in fact, they are routinely denied coverage and/or benefits by HMOs for any reason under the sun. Pre-existing conditions can disqualify people from getting insurance. Failure to disclose a benign and ridiculous problem such as an ordinary yeast infection led Blue Cross to stop payment on a hospital bill for a distraught woman with endometriosis who had been faithfully paying her Blue Cross premiums.

Moore contrasts the American system with that of other countries and points out that the United States is the only Western industrialized country that lacks a universal health care system. He visits Canada, Britain, and France -- and even Cuba, in a particularly daring, in-your-face maneuver that only he could pull off -- concluding that they are vastly superior to the US.

What Moore doesn't mention is that most of the countries above, as well as Australia and New Zealand, have a parallel private system. He tends to glorify Canada with his selective perspective and interviewing techniques, dismissing news reports about long waiting lists for procedures and lack of proper equipment in Canada as being sheer propaganda; he interviews Canadians in Windsor, Ontario who claimed that they had only been waiting for 20 minutes or so to see a doctor.

Having had the advantage of living in the US for 26 years and the remainder of my 28 years in Canada, I can say with confidence that any time I've had to go to the emergency room in Ottawa, I've waited four to eight hours. I also waited 18 months for a hip replacement that I needed at the age of 47 as a result of a car accident; and there is a marked shortage of MRI machines in Canada's capital. As a result, a small private system has emerged in Québec where people go across the line to pay $700 for their MRI so as to discover a tumor before it metastasizes. Canadians also pay for medications, physiotherapy and dental care, although these services are subsidized for those with low income.

Despite these minor problems with the Canadian system, I would choose it hands-down any day of the week over American health care. Canadian Medicare is unquestionably better which is why it wouldn't have hurt Moore at all to have made a more balanced presentation of the facts.

Aside from the outstanding medical care that Michael Moore managed to subversively obtain for some 9/11 workers in Cuba, the country that stood above all others in his analysis was France -- 35 hour work weeks, five weeks paid vacation per year even for part-time workers, full universal health care, nannies who are sent out by the government to help new mothers (and even do their laundry!), excellent subsidized day care, and romantic couples kissing in parks along with families relaxing, so unlike their American counterparts, filled with road rage as they drive home after their backbreaking 10 hour day to pick up some fast food at Kentucky Fried Chicken. The French have it all, including the pastries.

What Moore doesn't address is the recent election in France. Why was the left-wing government voted out and replaced by a strong right-winger if everyone was so happy with their idyllic situation?

Lastly, Moore asks what's wrong with the American government. I ask what's wrong with the American people. They're only 435 members of the House of Representatives, 50 members of Congress and a handful of people in the White House. If there's power in numbers, the people have it. Why aren't they using it? When did they become so complacent? Why aren't they marching in the streets, holding dead children in their arms and missing fingers that they couldn't afford to reattach? Has the Bush regime rendered them all terrified? But the problem predates Bush by a long shot and didn't seem to improve during the eight years that Clinton/Gore had in office.

Don't buy the argument that the government can't afford universal health care -- according to the Associated Press, US taxpayers are spending an estimated $10 billion a month in Iraq. Ouch.

I loved Sicko and I'll see it again on DVD so I can pause, rewind and reflect on the horrors of the American health care plan. No one says it better than Moore and I've been a fan of all of his movies, however, he always has his POV (point of view) and it wouldn't hurt him to balance things out just a tiny bit. That won't prevent me from giving this documentary a five-star plus rating but I didn't find it as funny as others did. Sarcastic, yes. Black humor? Definitely. Laugh-out-loud funny? Hmmm. I missed that! But don't you miss this brilliant, acerbic exposé.

Review by Sigrid Macdonald

Sigrid is a friend of mine that has written an amazing book titled D'Amour Road which you can learn more about by going to her blog at D'Amour Road