Michael Moore is as conspiratorial as ever. The online leaking of Sicko, his new documentary on the American health care system, was an “inside job,” he said. It was an attempt at “ruining the opening weekend’s box office” by those with a “vested interest” in seeing the film fail. And that’s not all. Government officials, the Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine director told reporters, are so anxious about his paean to Cuba’s health care system that he stashed the master reel in Canada, lest the Bush administration try to seize it.
But the administration needn’t worry about Sicko. As with much of his previous work, Moore’s latest film is, by turns, touching, naïve and maddeningly mendacious, a clumsy piece of agitprop that will likely have little lasting effect on the health care debate. Moore is right that the American system is sick—on this, there is bipartisan and public consensus. The United States has the highest per capita health care spending in the world, with comparatively disappointing results. But his radical prescriptions, which include a call for a British-style, single-payer system, will likely have little resonance with viewers. Indeed, according to a recent ABC News/Kaiser Family Health study, insured Americans are overwhelmingly (89 percent) satisfied with their own care, while broadly concerned about rising costs of prescription drugs and critical of the care others receive.
Sicko presents us with the case of Doug Noe, whose young daughter Annette was born with an acute hearing disability. When a doctor suggested a pair of cochlear ear implants, Noe’s insurance provider, Cigna HealthCare, approved the procedure for only the left ear, arguing that a two ear operation was “experimental.” But when Noe alerted Moore to Cigna’s intransigence, the company quickly reversed its decision, fearing bad publicity.
Score one for Citizen Moore.
Such heartless penny-pinching, Moore argues, is uniquely American, the logical endpoint of a system that puts profit before people, as the saying goes. But fear not. For according to Sicko, there exists an alternative, modestly utopian alternative. In Europe—specifically France, England and Scandinavia (Moore filmed in Norway, but didn’t include it in the film, he told audience members at the Washington, DC premiere, because it was so generous he feared American audience members would think it was pure fiction)—every health care issue is handled by a squadron of munificent bureaucrats.
But, the viewer is left wondering, who will pay for all this generosity? Don’t governments too suffer from cash shortfalls and ballooning budget deficits; situations that require corners to be cut, beds to be freed up, the cheapest route taken? What of Moore’s implication that, once turned over to the government, things become “free?”
Take the case of four-year-old Elias Dillner. In 2004, Dillner’s parents were told by doctors that their son too would benefit from cochlear implants. After being fitted with the first implant, Dillner’s insurance provider said the second operation could not be “prioritized.” The family would have to wait. “We will do anything,” Elias’s mother told reporters, “even if it means that we have to take out a loan for the operation.” Without insurance, the second procedure would likely cost $40,000.
But Dillner’s truculent insurance provider was not Aetna or Kaiser, but the notoriously generous Swedish welfare state, where health care is “free.” And because there is no private clinic in Sweden that could perform the operation, Elias will sit in a queue, hoping, in lieu of privatization, for prioritization. Swedish legislator Robert Uitto said that the Dillner case was unfortunate, but “People shouldn’t, on principle, be allowed to purchase care in the public system.”
Sicko also introduces us to Diane, whose brain tumor operation was initially denied by Horizon BlueCross because it didn’t consider her condition “life threatening.” She eventually received treatment, but “not without battling the insurance companies,” Moore says.
Jack Szmyt found himself in a similar situation. After waiting two months for his initial diagnosis—he too had a brain tumor—Szmyt was told that it would be another month until doctors could start the necessary treatment. Rather than wait in a queue, he borrowed $30,000 from a friend, and flew to a private clinic in Germany. Had he not sought private treatment abroad, his German doctor said, he would likely have died. When contacted by the media, his insurer, again the Swedish government, said it didn’t consider the assigned waiting period “unreasonable.”
Such examples suggest that Moore’s depiction of European-style medicine as an easy panacea for America’s problems is rather more complicated than presented. Massive queues and cash shortages have plagued all of the systems profiled—and celebrated—in Sicko.
Read the whole thing.