By now, you have heard some of the buzz surrounding Michael Moore’s new film Sicko. I saw it at the last showing of the night and the theater was packed, only the front row in the middle remained open while the side rows were full all the way. I considered myself the skeptic in the room as I have never really forgiven Michael Moore for his heartless response to the people of flint when his first movie transformed him from one of them into a money man. I also find that his films increasingly sacrifice the message to highlight his pranksterism and his ego. Yet, I believe Michael Moore is doing a service to this country by not only uncovering information we may not have but also putting it out there relentlessly, regardless of the consequence to himself, in order to make a change. To my surprise, and delight, Sicko focused in on the later (important info) and mostly left the former (prankster/ego) behind.
Echoing the role of storytelling mentioned in my second post on the USSF, one of the most poignant parts of Micheal Moore’s new film Sicko is the stories told by loved ones, and in one case the woman herself, of people who died because they were denied needed medical treatment in this country. I repeat their stories here because I want them to never stop being retold until things change, if you don’t want to read them, scroll past the bullet points below:
- woman interviewed was denied surgery to remove a brain tumor because insurance company said it was not life threatening – she died before the film was finished.
- a man who found a perfect donor match, his younger brother, was denied transplant surgery despite his wife working for the hospital in charge – he died, leaving behind his small child and his loving wife. (She connected the dots between race and class)
- a mother rushed her child to the hospital with a skyrocketing fever only to be refused needed medical treatment b/c the hospital was out of network then forcibly removed from the hospital for demanding treatment anyway (scary black woman syndrome); the insurance would also not pay for the ambulance to transport the child to the proper hospital – her baby died as they reached the in network hospital doors.
Watching these stories brought a cold silence across the theater. The final story brought tears to my eyes, as I looked into the face of photos of the little tot and the anger and pain in her mother’s eyes. Her mother kept saying “I did the best I could baby. Mommy tried.” How do you let a baby die?
The answer: profit over people.
Sicko tells us, using the actual tapes from the Nixon library as documentation, that Nixon and Kaiser (of Kaiser Permanente) colluded to create a for profit medical industry in which money is made by denying service. The idea was Kaiser’s, and all though I know many people who get good care at their facilities, I know that I was routinely denied proper care for one of my conditions forcing me to seek a new provider who made me pay for my treatment outright for 6 months as a pre-existing condition. The excitement about the profit was Nixon and Kaiser’s.
Why? The government gets a cut of the profit primarily through lobbyists and spending. At one point in the film, Moore puts pop up bubbles over various senators and Bush’s head, showing how much money they make off of colluding with the HMO system. He also showed that the biggest proponent for the medicare reform quit his job after the bill past so he could go work for said HMOs.
The recipient of the second largest payout by HMOs and Pharmaceutical companies: HILARY CLINTON. The woman who was smacked down publicly and privately for years for trying to get us universal coverage. Her defeat was a smack heard across the democractic party as no one, but Biden, is now willing to make single payer (as opposed to managed care insurer) part of their health care reform platform.
Besides denying health care to people in need the switch to managed care has:
- increased the cost of health care – basic and intensive
- increased # of uninsured from 13 million to 50 million
- increased the view of patients as numbers (costing money) over patients as humans (needing care)
Sicko also makes some important connections between debt, managed care, and social change. Moore argues that a nation in debt due to college loans and medical bills is a nation of docile workers because they NEED their jobs to stay afloat. The result is that they do not demand worker’s rights from their employers; they do not have time to demand civil and human rights from their government. This is the most undertheorized part of the film but it is amongst the most astute points made (beyond the medical industry is killing us for profit of course).
Sicko also spends a considerable amount of time on a handful of 911 relief workers. Despite all the rhetoric about 911, these workers and many likely them are being denied medical care because they were volunteers. VOLUNTEERS!!!! Volunteers who searched through the rubble for survivors and then signs of loved ones lost for the grieving. Volunteers who provided needed medical assistance. Volunteers who provided necessary care work – grief counseling, water and food runs, blankets to escapees, scouted for medical personnel for the injured, etc. VOLUNTEERS.
The government is now looking into prosecuting some or all of the 911 workers who received care from Cuba during this film. They will be charged with violating the travel ban and other crimes as the government sees fit. For their service to our country, our injured, and our dead they were left to die. For being a part of a documentary that demands we honor the words said that day and in so many speeches afterward, they may find themselves dying in prison. Do not let that happen! Write your congressperson.
Some important quotes from the film:
- “A nation that can afford to kill, can afford to heal.”
- democracy brings freedom to the people and voice to the poor while undemocractic nations rule by fear and debt
- N. America must change its focus from “me to we.”
Sicko shows us that democractic, capitalist, countries like Canada, France, and the UK all have socialized health care and many also have free or subsidized higher education. I have lived in two of these countries and traveled in one other, and I can personally tell you that the health care there worked and my friends and neighbors were satisfied with the care they received.
Cuba not only has all of the things, these other countries have, but they provided the 911 vets with the care they could not get from the USA. Cubans have a world renown medical system and they were able to keep it afloat through innovative means even after the break up of the USSR and the subsequent trade embargo placed by the U.S. to force Cuba to accept IMF loans.
The one critique of this segment of the film for me was the valorizing of an obvious systems gouger, a man who used the French health care system to take a 3 month vacation of the Riviera. This scene, and the deft way Moore avoids interviewing the immigrants and working poor in France, should give us pause. How can we in N. America avoid the pitfalls Moore doesn’t seem to see?
It also shows that conservatives (even Thatcher) and liberals alike support the idea that medical care is a right not a limited resource. And that the belief in care translates into how a patient is seen and treated. Most of the physicians from elsewhere talked about how they would never want to work in a system where the could not provide care to their patients and showed compassion I have not seen in the U.S., except maybe in Vermont. N. American physicians on the other hand talked about pay increases for turning people down and seeing patients as a drain on profit.
In the end, Sicko shows us how far we have come from the ideals we claim this nation stands for. It gives the real life stories of ordinary people and heroes slowly dying to make rich people richer. It gives us the names, or the images, of the people responsible and it leaves the decision about how to act in our hands. If you do nothing else, go see it. If you can do more than that:
- write to your congressperson
- publish your own medical story and your provider’s name on the internet and in the paper
- organize a reading/action group in your neighborhood
- march to congress
As one physician in the film put it in a report to congress: [she] had been responsible for the deaths of 1,000s in order to make a profit for [her] company and has never been held accountable.
Do not let managed care manage to keep you from care!