Commentary by Timothy Horrigan, June 24-26, 2007
I am going to miss the official premiere of Michael Moore's new film Sicko because I will be working at New Hampshire International Speedway that weekend. The subject of health insurance is of great interest to me because for most of my life I have been one of the 37 or 44.8 or 50 or however many million Americans with no health insurance. And right now, I have an unexplained pain in my shoulder which I would get looked at if I had insurance. Moore's film warns us that even those who have health insurance are in big trouble: our healthcare system is broken, because of the stranglehold of big insurance companies and HMOs.
I did get to see a premiere in Manchester, NH a week ahead of time, and here is a review I posted on DailyKos
Michael Moore "Sicko" preview: Manchester, NH 6-22-07
I was one of 500 or so citizens who managed to get themselves invited to see a preview of Michael Moore's "Sicko," 12 noon on Friday June 22. I actually got invited twice — once by the Kucinich campaign (even though the event was ostensibly for "Undecided voters" only) and once by NARAL. Originally, it was supposed to be shown at the Palace Theater, an old vaudeville house in downtown Manchester. When we arrived at the theater, we were told that the film would in fact be shown at a multiplex on the south side of town, so we all piled onto charter busses and headed out into Strip Mall Hell. Part of me wondered if Dick Cheney was pulling a scam on us and that us 500 liberals would all end up on planes bound for Guantanamo. But no, we really did go see the movie.
Gitmo figures prominently in the film. I doubt I am giving away anything you haven't already gleaned from the publicity campaign when I say that the film climaxes with a bittersweet journey to Cuba. Moore organizes a reverse Mariel boatlift to take three boatloads of Americans to get treated at the state of the art clinic at the Gulag in Gitmo. They are turned away at the entrance to the Guantanamo Naval Air Station, but they do find help in Cuba... which like Canada, Britain and France has a healthcare system (a socialized healthcare system no less!) which actually works. He doesn't sugarcoat the situation in Cuba: the facilities he visited were sparsely equipped, but they were clean and they had the basics and the doctors were very professional — and patients could actually get the care they needed, without going broke and without being humiliated by a bureaucracy which makes the IRS look like the Kucinich campaign. (We also see the systems in Canada, Britain and France: all of them work quite well, thank you, and adminstrative costs run about 2% of total health spending in those thre countries instead of the 32% we see here in the USA.)
Although he doesn't belabor the point (although he certainly is not subtle), Moore does show us that the insurance companies and the HMOs are not entrepreneurial businesses. They are in fact acting as a branch of government — a branch of government which is not accountable to anyone. Entrepreneurs provide services: the insurance companies and the HMOs prevent doctors from providing services. (Ironically, the most entepreneurial healthcare provider we meet during this film is a French doctor who runs a 24-hour housecall service.)
The movie is a typical Moore product: a collage of documentary material and archival footage which makes very serious points with fierce compassion. The health care industry is tacitly acknowledging that the facts are true. No spokespersons appear in the film, aside from a lowly assistant to an HMO CEO who calls a a family to tell them that their infant daughter will in fact be able to have both ears operated on. But he is being attacked (and even being threatened with prosecution for his trip to Cuba) — and the attacks seem to consist either of ad hominem remarks, quibbling over minor variations in statistics and/or simply repeating false claims which Moore actually rebuts effectively in the film. It is by no means a worst-case scenario: he deliberately focussed on horror stories from patients who (unlike myself and 50 million other Americans) actually have health insurance, and he focussed on patients and family members who were strong and intelligent middle-class professionals who could not easily be dismissed as having made quote-unquote "bad lifestyle choices." Perhaps the most tragic story was a nurse who worked at a major hospital, who was a leader in her community, who was an extremely articulate person, and actually had enough political clout to get the CEO of her HMO to meet with her. She still could not get her husband the basic treatment he needed to beat the cancer which killed him: he had a fairly common form of cancer, but every treatment his doctors suggested was rejected as being "experimental."
The busses took us back to the Palace Theater (not Gitmo, thank God!) after the film for a town hall meeting. Moore summed it all up when he said: "a human being is not an automobile." This is true not just because a human being is — well, a human being— but also because human beings don't have a Blue Book value. If your car is damaged beyond its Blue Book value, then the insurance companies can write it off and make you send it to the junkyard. But this is not morally permissible with a human being— and more to the point it's not even possible (which is one reason why insurance companies feel compelled to play games with pre-existing conditions, experimental treatments, etc., etc.)
The Forgotten Liars: The novel by Timothy Horrigan