By Susanne L. King
Friday, July 13
A MAN sews up the gaping wound in his own leg because he has no health insurance. Another decides whether to save his ring finger for $12,000, or his middle finger for $60,000, since he can’t afford reconstructive surgery for both fingers.
So begins “Sicko,” Michael Moore’s new documentary on the failures and travesties of the United States’ health care system, which leaves almost 50 million people uninsured and many more underinsured.
These stories are only two of the 25,000 that Moore received when he sent an e-mail request for reports from patients who have experienced difficulties with the health care system. With these stories of shattered lives, Moore masterfully weaves a powerful narrative that is an indictment of our health care system. He shows us people who suffer unnecessary pain, chaos, indignity and death because of their lack of access to health care.
Moore details the failures of our system by focusing on working adults who can’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions, who have insurance but can’t afford their co-payments and deductibles, or who have been denied coverage by their insurance companies when they develop a health problem.
The people around me cried as we watched a middle-aged couple move into a small room in their daughter’s house after declaring medical bankruptcy. The husband had survived three heart attacks and his wife had developed cancer. Even though both had been gainfully employed and had insurance, they went bankrupt in their retirement years because of “cost-sharing,” the term insurance companies use for sticking patients with high deductibles and co-payments.
By showing how having insurance does not guarantee access to health care in America, Moore highlights the underhanded practices of insurance companies. A devastated mother describes her child’s death, which occurred because the family’s managed care insurance company would not pay for treatment at the closest hospital emergency department.
A former medical reviewer, Dr. Linda Peeno, cries as she testifies in a government hearing about the practices she implemented to deny care to patients insured by Humana before she quit her job in protest. .
Moore not only details the problems of our current health care system, he also shows us the solution. He supports a national health care plan, similar to that of every other industrialized country in the world. He goes to Canada, Great Britain, France, and, yes, to Cuba, to highlight the benefits of a single-payer plan funded and administered by the government.
He also debunks the myths and distortions about a national health plan, which are promulgated by the insurance companies, including the specter of “waiting lines,” and the bogeyman of “socialized medicine.” As he points out, we have “socialized” education, “socialized” police and fire departments, and a “socialized” postal service.
The truth is that a national health plan would not be “socialized medicine,” as doctors and hospitals that are now private would remain so. The change would be in the administration of the health care funds. Rather than a system with multiple insurance companies that drains health care coffers of 31 percent of the health care dollars, the government would be the “single payer” and administer the funds. (The administrative costs for Medicare are 3.6 percent, and Canadian costs are 1.3 percent). A similar system in the United States would save $300 billion annually.
In addition, patients would be able to choose their own doctors and hospitals, without intrusion into their health care decisions by faceless bureaucrats.
Moore raises the moral issue of denying patients access to health care in our country. A wonderful moment in the film occurs when he talks with a conservative party member in Canada who strongly supports his national health care system. The Canadian conservative believes that society should support equal access to health care for each person, regardless of means, even though that might affect his own pocketbook. This is not a partisan movie: This documentary is about social values and the right of everyone to have adequate and affordable health care.
While there is humor in this movie, the stories elicit raw emotions of sadness and rage. Unlike his previous movies, Moore is not confrontational; he just lets people tell their gripping stories. “Sicko” will help you better understand the problems of our health care system, and it makes a strong case for a national health plan as the obvious solution.
See this movie, and then call your legislators and ask them to sponsor the current national health care legislation in Congress, H. R. 676.