CANNES. France (Hollywood Reporter) - This is the movie
where Michael Moore gets a few Michael Moore haters off his
"Sicko" posits an uncontroversial, if not incontrovertible,
proposition: The health care system in the U.S. is sick. Even a
right-wing Republican, when denied care by his HMO or stuck
with an astronomical bill, is going to agree. Disagreement
might arise over the prescription Dr. Moore suggests. But he
makes so much damn sense in his arguments that the discussion
could be civilized -- except for the heat coming from the
health care industry, with billions of dollars in profits at
stake, and certain politicians whose pockets are lined with
industry campaign donations.
Not that "Sicko" avoids Moore's usual oversimplification
and cute stunts. But the gist of his arguments is sound, and
only a wealthy HMO executive would claim no problems exist in
American medical care.
"Sicko" undoubtedly will follow his previous docus in
attracting wide viewership from audiences normally not attuned
to the docu experience, so boxoffice should be considerable in
North America. While the discussion is, as always with Moore, a
uniquely American one, audiences in Europe and other markets
will want to eavesdrop for the sheer fun of seeing Americans
wallow in problems they solved years ago.
The movie begins with horror stories. So much so that Moore
is not always able to lighten things up with his usual brand of
comedy. But he does manage some sick humor as he recounts the
travails not only of the 47 million uninsured Americans but
also of those who think they have health insurance, paid for
with years of premiums, only to be denied a medical procedure
they desperately need.
He traces this tragic situation back to an Oval Office deal
cooked up by President Nixon -- caught on the infamous White
House tapes -- to foist managed health care on the unsuspecting
public. Nixon loves it because it's not some do-good government
program. "It's for profit," he enthuses.
Indeed it is. Tales unravel about how a successful medical
claim is called a "medical loss" by the insurance industry and
how denying claims can lead to promotions in that industry. The
film details how the health industry spent more than $100
million to defeat President Clinton's universal health care
package and currently maintains four D.C. lobbyists for every
member of Congress.
Most of the rhetoric against having universal health care
focuses on the words "socialized medicine." The question Moore
has is this: While a policeman coming to your rescue or a
fireman answering an alarm does not ask for payment and
therefore represents government assistance, why do Americans
place their crucial health care needs in the hands of
for-profit insurance companies?
Those countries that have tried "socialized medicine" have
seen patients suffer long waits and bureaucratic interference
in doctors' decisions, according to politicians opposed to
universal health care. "Just ask a Canadian!" thunders the
previous President Bush, referring to that county's health
Moore takes up the challenge, going not only to Canada but
also to Britain and France to ask. In Canada he encounters a
man who caught a hockey puck the wrong way and sliced off all
the fingers on his hand. "Socialized medicine" put the fingers
back. By contrast, an American who sliced off only two finger
tips was told one tip would cost $60,000 to repair but the
other only $12,000.
He chose the $12,000 operation.
In a London hospital, Moore milks the no-cost system for
all the humor it's worth as he desperately searches the
facility for any sign of a billing department. He finds none.
Finally, he spots a cashier sign. But he is dumbfounded to
learn this is where people who paid for transit to the hospital
can get reimbursed for that cost.
In France, the search for pre-existing conditions has
dramatically different implications than in the U.S.: Whereas
American insurance companies scrutinize enrollment forms for
signs of a pre-existing condition that wasn't disclosed so as
to deny a claim, in France it is to determine potentially
better or even preventive treatment.
Why do even conservative citizens of these countries want
universal health care? How did this all come about? "It all
begins with democracy," says a former British MP. In Britain,
where the National Health Service was founded in 1948, any
attempt to dismantle the system would spark genuine revolution,
The MP's opinion that some in the U.S. government want
citizens to have poor health and education so they remain
"scared and demoralized" and unwilling to vote might strike
some as extreme. But when Moore turns his camera back on the
U.S., where private hospitals in Los Angeles have taken to
dumping destitute patients at homeless shelters on skid row, it
is clear that this industry needs regulation.
Moore's final trip abroad is the one that made headlines
recently with the news that the U.S. Treasury Department is
investigating him for possible violations of the U.S. trade
embargo restricting travel to Cuba. Yes, Moore did take several
of the sick people he visited earlier in the film to Cuba,
including rescue workers suffering from the effects of working
at Ground Zero yet denied necessary care by the government. And
in the poverty-stricken land of Fidel Castro, they get
state-of-the-art diagnostic services, treatment programs and,
in one case, a five-cent drug that would cost $120 in the U.S.
Sure, this is a stunt and fails to deal with the chronic
unemployment and economic malaise of that Communist state. But
if you can get that quality of health care in Cuba, why not in
Nebraska? It all begins with democracy.
Screenwriter-director: Michael Moore; Executive producers:
Kathleen Glynn, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein. Producer:
Meghan O'Hara; Co-producer: Anne Moore; Editor: Christian
Swietlik, Dan Swietlik, Geoffrey Richman.