Jenny Haines

Sicko, a movie by Michael Moore

Having swaited in eager anticipation for so long for Michael Moore’s new film, Sicko, and missing Moore’s wonderful, satirical sense of humour, I managed to get into an advance screening of the film. I was not disappointed. It was more, much more, than I had hoped for or expected.

Sicko is a must-see for anyone concerned about health care. It is fashionable in Bush’s United States to criticise or undermine Moore, but in Sicko he shows that he is the conscience of the US, a commentator from the heart and the head, on the insanity of the US health care system.

Sicko is a film that I watched with a growing sense of rage at the blatant injustice of the way the health system operates, rage that was only tempered by Moore’s sense of humour and the overwhelming sadness of some of the stories of victims of the health system. Moore posted a notice on his website asking for people who had been affected adversely by the health system, and in 24 hours he had more than 2000 emails in his inbox.

In five days he had 5000 emails from people who wanted to tell their story. Moore was able to help some of them through making the film, such as the child who needed a second cochlear implant so she could hear from both ears. Her health fund up to that point had only agreed to pay for one cochlear implant on one ear.

There were many people that Moore could, at first, only listen to, such as the elderly couple who went bankrupt paying their medical expenses after the male partner had treament for heart attacks, and the female partner was treated for cancer. This couple had to move into a spare room in their daughter’s house, a house full of children. Coincidentally, on the day they moved in, their son in law was leaving for a contracting job to earn quick money to support his family. Guess where? Iraq, of course. Did he come back to his family?

Moore gets victim after victim to tell their story of corporate greed and bureaucratic meannness. The US health system is run by the insurance companies through a system called managed care. Forty-seven million people in the US have no health insurance and there is no universal health care.

Hillary Clinton, during her husband’s term of office, tried to introduce universal health care but was beaten into silence by a $200 million campaign against her plans by the insurance companies. Even those who have insurance, and 250 million people in the US do, can be double-crossed by the insurance companies if they have what the insurance companies call a non-insurable pre-existing condition. The list of such conditions is a long one.

A very touching part of the film was interviews with conscience-striken former health insurance industry workers who had left the industry in horror, and who related their distress at having to interview people who they knew would not qualify for health insurance, but they could not tell them at the interview.

Moore gives the US public a bit of truth in a land where lies, fabrication and a complete inablilty to face reality rules. Managed care was introduced to the US health system in 1971 by Richard Nixon on the advice of John Erhlichman, who consulted with health insurer Kaiser Permanente. Since then Kaiser has grown into a multibillion-dollar corporation, as have Blue Cross, Humana and several other huge corporate health insurers.

Does it have to be like this, Moore asks. He crosses the border to Canada, where there is universal health care, and sees a successful health care system. Not content with just Canada, he goes to Britain and France and is astounded by the extent of their universal, socialised health care systems.

In Britain he interviews Tony Benn, the former Labour MP who related the founding of the National Health Service on July 5 1948. As Moore again points out, Britain introduced the NHS at a very dark time in its history after the Second World War, when it was broke but recovering a deep crisis.

He draws the parallel with the US after September 11, 2001. Why couldn’t the US pull together now, as Britain had done? In France, Moore is astounded at the extent of state support for citizens: universal health care, child care, and state-supported nannies who go into a new mother’s home to help out in the early weeks of a new child’s life. Any tired old socialist who may be wondering what socialism achieved, go and see Sicko. Socialism has left a proud legacy in Britain and France.

Moore understands the American psyche. He interviews those who were rescuers on the World Trade Centre site after 9/11. Despite all the hype at the time, they are now victims of the US health system. He visits one place where most North Americans would expect health care would not be as good as in the US, Guantanamo Bay.

Prisoners in Guantanomo Bay have universal health and dental care, US citizens don’t. Unable to get into Guantanamo Bay Hospital, he visits the Cuban health system. The kindness with which he, and the patients that he takes with him, are received by the doctors, nurses and administrators of the Cuban health system, would make any old socialist very proud.

The New York Daily News, reviewing Sicko said this was “Moore’s most assured, least antagonistic and potentially most important film” despite him ridiculing the hysterical propoganda of the US health insurance companies, which compares socialised universal health care with the old Soviet Union. Time magazine said: “As harangue and movie tragicomedy, Sicko is socko”. Very true. Go see it.

More on Sicko.


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