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by Kasey Leavitt, student writer


After controversial films such as Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me, and Fahrenheit 9/11, which tackled issues such as video games and violence among American youth, the decline of American industry, and the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, award-winning director Michael Moore has taken up another cause on behalf of the American People – health care. In his latest film Sicko, Moore presents a one-sided, yet cogent argument for socialized medicine.

The film opens with a famous speech given by President G. W. Bush, in which he proclaims his disappointment that “Too many OB/GYNs aren’t able to practice their love with women all across this country.” Hey, it wouldn’t be a Michael Moore film if it didn’t take shots at Bush.

Moore quickly becomes more serious as victims of HMO horror stories are paraded across the screen with outrageous tales of illness, bankruptcy, and death at the hands of corporate health care providers; each new story more heartbreaking than the last.

Just when your heart feels heavier than ever, and all hope for a healthy future seems exhausted, Moore begins a world tour of countries that employ systems of socialized medicine. His aim: to discredit the myths surrounding social medicine programs.

In Canada, for example, Moore challenges the notion that social medicine means a longer wait to see the doctor. Predictably, Moore doesn’t put anyone on camera who admits to waiting longer.

Moore’s findings are interesting, considering that they contradict a study by the Commonwealth Fund which found that 24 percent of Canadians wait four hours or longer to see a doctor in the emergency room, compared to 12 percent of Americans. For specialists, 57 percent of Canadians had to wait at least four weeks compared to 23 percent of U.S. patients (AP, July 2007.)

The next stop on the tour is London, where even the most complex medical procedures are free, the law caps all prescription drugs at $12, and hospitals reimburse patients for their travel expenses to and from the hospital.

Of all the countries Moore travels to while filming this documentary, perhaps the most interesting is Cuba, where, despite all the evils its leaders have allegedly committed against its own people, the Cubans welcomed with open arms a group of 9/11 rescue workers who were unable to afford the care they needed in the United States.

In a particularly touching scene, a volunteer paramedic who served for weeks at Ground Zero without pay was able to purchase, for five cents, the medications she needs to survive but could not afford in the United States.

Moore tells the story of Regina Cervantes, a volunteer paramedic who, because she was not on a government payroll, was ruled ineligible for government-sponsored health benefits afforded to other rescue workers. The respiratory illness she contracted as a result of her service in the days and weeks after 9/11 forced her to quit her job and raise her two children on a meager $1,000 a month Social Security stipend. She could not afford the $260 a month charged for her medicine by a local pharmacy in her upstate New York neighborhood.

Viewers share her feelings of betrayal, and her relief when she realizes that in Cuba, a third-world country by American standards, ordinary people, and even foreigners, are provided with comprehensive health care for free or at a minimal cost.

Moore spends a lot of time pointing out what’s wrong with America’s health care system. He starts at the beginning, by revealing the minutes of a shocking meeting between then-President Nixon and his advisors who are discussing Edgar Kaiser’s plan for privately managed medicine. Nixon was leery of private medicine until one of his advisors assured him the plan would work because it would mean providing less medical care to people and bigger profits for private companies. Nixon liked that idea, so he approved the plan and announced it to the American people at a press conference the next day, touting it as giving Americans the “best care” possible.

Fast forward 30 years to health care CEOs making billions, yes billions, of dollars a year by paying off politicians and denying necessary medical procedures to sick Americans. Former employees at health care companies reveal how they were instructed to deny at least 10 percent of all medical claims and were given bonuses for surpassing that quota.

Moore ends the film with a thought-provoking point: We already have many socialized programs in America that work, including our fire and police departments, libraries, and public schools. None of these exist to make a profit, and for good reason: they are necessities. Can you imagine what our country would be like if fire departments were profit based? They wouldn’t waste their time responding to house fires or expensive search and rescue missions because these cost money and don’t return a profit.

Isn’t adequate health care for every American, Moore asks, just as important as being safe from crime or fires or natural disasters? Why should our health care system be for profit?

Furthermore, it seems as if the situation will only get worse. Experts in the health care industry are warning that this next generation will be sicker than their parents, and they will be the first generation to die at an earlier age than their parents due to obesity and obesity-related illnesses. Treating this next generation will be very expensive for HMOs, and who knows what tricks they’ll pull to avoid losing their money.

For all of Moore’s shocking allegations, something is missing: The other side. Moore does not mention even one positive health care story, nor does he give the HMOs a chance to respond to his accusations. In an interview on ABC’s The View, Moore contended that the health care industry tells their side of the story every day through millions of dollar’s worth of advertising.

Moore also fails to discuss in detail what implementing social medicine would mean for Americans – higher taxes. Americans have always despised taxes, and I think that Moore was accurate when he told The View hosts that any candidate who promised free health care for all, but who admitted that he or she would raise taxes to accomplish it, would be laughed off Capitol Hill.

Moore does point out, in the interview, that while we might pay higher taxes for social medicine, we would no longer be paying for monthly premiums, co-pays, out-of-network costs, and prescriptions, so most people would be breaking even or actually doing better. That claim makes sense, but is hard to prove.

Another thing Moore doesn’t discuss is a solution. Yes, there is a problem with our health care system, and there has been for a long time, but how do we fix it? Should we all move to France where health care is free and the law mandates a minimum of five weeks of paid vacation for all workers, full time or part time? Should we all marry billionaires so that money will never be a problem? Moore does jokingly suggest during the credits that we all find a Canadian to marry. He even recommends using hook-a-canuk.com to help us find a Canadian mate.

While Moore brings up some very valid points that must be addressed in our country. Sicko is one-sided and reeks of propaganda, but everyone, American or not, should see this film. Although its featured stories may be exceptions to the rule, the humanity of the struggles Moore shows us touches everyone and encourages us to work together to create positive changes for our future.

While moving to France or marrying a Canadian sounds like fun, the best solution is to hound your congressional representative and demand a change of health care policies in America. You can find your representatives at www.congress.org.



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