Sicko Review

Michael Moynihan watches Sicko so you and I do not have to:

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.

18 responses to “Sicko Review

  1. Thank you for devoting some of your blog to this important issue of health care. Please allow me to comment against Mr. Moore’s work. I believe the market failures Sicko addresses are not due to a failed government or economic system but to an epidemic of unhealthy lifestyles that cannot be supported economically. Preventable illness comprises 80% of the burden of illness and 90% of all healthcare costs. Preventable illnesses account for eight of the nine leading categories of death. No medicine, surgery or treatment can reverse the damage caused by a lifetime of smoking, poor eating and lack of exercise. If no such treatment is available, then there is no economic system that would provide a treatment. Treatments exist today to buy individuals time to get back on their feet toward healthier lifestyles. There is no replacement for health living. Thus, NO ECONOMIC SYSTEM CAN SOLVE MARKET FAILURES DRIVEN BY UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLES.

  2. I just saw Sicko and feel very disapointed. As a health care worker for the past 17 years I have been very involved in health insurance injustices. I do believe the insurance companies have far too much power over decisions regarding a patients health care needs. Although, I also believe that there is a serious lack of personal responsibility from a patients in the US. We need to concentrate on preventative methods rather than feeling entitled to high cost health care. It is not only the doctors who provide care but all ancillary services such as housekeeping, technologists, and secretaries. These services cost money thus creating costs for procedures and treatment. It unfortunately costs money to receive quality health care and it should. We are paying for education and high standards from our physicians. We are paying for quality control and monitoring to ensure that our hospitals and medications are safe. In an ideal world everyone would have everything they need but even in the most socialized society there are flaws. I was hoping to see more than one view in this film. As a Michael Moore supporter I am very disapointed that he would insult his audience in believing that we would support this film without question. On a positive note, I do believe that this will spark conversation and debate on the subject which is never a bad thing!

  3. Pingback: Links to 10 blogosphere reviews of Michael Moore’s new movie: “Sicko”. « The things I like that I think you might like.

  4. I just saw SICKO and was outraged at the injustices that our healthcare system provides some Americans–those who are denied care and those who go bankrupt because of an illness. Yes, it does cost money to provide quality healthcare, however, America ranks in the mid-30’s compared to the rest of the world in quality of care, yet we pay by far the most for it. Record profits for Big Pharma, hospital systems, and HMO’s who employee 4 lobbiests for every elected official to make sure things stay the way they are makes this a morally corrupt system. There must be changes and the conversation needs to start NOW rather than the naysayers thwarting it because they don’t think we can afford it. Well, we can’t afford not to!

    We should do a better job of encouraging preventative healthy lifestyle choices, but a previous poster over simplifies that all medical conditions are because of personal responsibility. Tell that to the baby who is going deaf, or the brain tumor patient or the Alzheimer victim or so many conditions that many of our fellow citizens face. A tragedy can happen to any of us at any time and it could completely wipe out our savings and force us to lose our home, etc.. That is not what America should be about! How would it be if our fire departments were based on profit and who could pay?

    The film also tackled how we were sold out to Big Pharm on the new Medicare plan. Why on earth we pay so much more than the rest of the world for medicine–even the US government does not get to negotiate price is absolutely stealing from the taxpayers of this country!

    As a personal example on how wrong we get it in the US, I was in New Zealand last fall and broke my finger. Now, in America that would have cost me at least $1,200 just to walk into a emergency room, x-rays and setting the cast. It cost me $200 NZ ($160 US) for it–on a Saturday, which apparently was a premium charge. So, if it had been on a weekday, it would have been less! I wasn’t even a taxpayer of that country. The idea that we have the best care and it needs to cost as much as it does is a lie–and the American public is drinking the Kool-aid. Corporations run our government,( thus facism) and they want to make sure their propaganda machine and massive advertsing budgets convince you of the evils and failures of universal healthcare. The current profit center system is what has failed the American people.

  5. People in the USA, wake up!. This health care system is broken and serves only private interests. Ask what is in the best interest of the patient and not what is in the best interest of the payor, then you will be on the right track. Having lived in many countries, I can truthfully say that this is the most unfair system in the world in the wealthiest nation in the world. Only in America can a patient with a life threating illness survive only to find that they are bankrupt. Let’s stop the rhetoric and fix this broken system; the only solution is a single payor system moderated by the federal government.

  6. Nobody seems to want to tackle the basic issue that Moore presents; we already have several “socialized” programs in the United States. Fire protection, police services, garbage pick up, roads, parks, schools etc. Why not set these items up as a for profit entity? If Bill Gates house is burning and he can pay more, he can get better service. Those who are poor or middle class will get what they can afford, and a person in an office can determine how necesscary it is to send a fire truck or not. Nobody claims that European or Cuban health care is perfect. I would also suggest that companies that import to the US have a major advantage in that they do not pay health care premiums that rise faster than any other expense. Its sad that the profit motive is even considered somewhat acceptable in the field of health. By the way, to the person who blames people who get sick on their “lifestyle”, I wonder if they realize uninsured people can not afford “wellness” checkups, and things like second hand smoke, carbon monoxide, accidents are not things people can alwasy avoid if they want a job.

  7. Voice of Reason

    American voters bear much of the blame for the situation they are in. Instead of putting the pressure on their government representatives, they blindly vote in or re-vote in politicians who do not have the people’s best interest in mind when they pass laws.

  8. I also agree that our health care system is basically in chaos. And we are at fault for letting this situation happen. We have become a nation lacking on compassion. We are just too greedy and looking to maximize our profits. We are a highly egotistical society which does not care for the least advantage. And many of us are just too cynical and tend to minimize the problem. The reality is that we need a universal health care system same as all other industrialized countries. And yes, I agree with the previous poster, stop the rhetoric and the bs … we have a crisis that needs to be solved NOW!!!

  9. Saw the movie last night and I am not suprised that once again the lobbyist are in charge of the decisions over healthcare in DC.
    People scream about socialized medicine and how horrible our current system would become when in reality our current system resembles a Fascist regimes ideal . This is a wake up call for the people working in the healthcare system as well, can you live with turning a patient away because they have no insurance ? Did you get involved in healthcare just for the money or to help? Big questions that need serious answers!

  10. Just saw Sicko in Poland. Midle size country in Europe with tragic healtcare system – few hour lines for a doctor, low earnings for MDs and Nurses, etc, etc…. but but but. There is no chance, that they will deny to help U, to save Your life, if U don’t have the money for it. Nobody ask the question: Do U have the “right” insurance. It is a public healthcare system and it is for everybody in need.

    oh, and one more thing. Maybe “sicko” is made in a special Moore Way… with all its bads, but so is the rewiev abowe:-). ‘health study by Keiser” commone….

  11. Why not have NAtional Healthcare? Good economic fortune ought not be the key to good health care.

    It is true that there is a cost, but in reality are we not beaing that cost anyway? Only problem is that we are bearing the cost too late, only after the sick are too sick.

    I am a capitalist, let there be no doubt, but let the people win and the system will win. The peoples access to good health care can not be dtermined by the needs of insurance companies to to satisfy Wall Street and “make the quarter”.

    Profit making in health care is a concept that has to be abandoned. It is a non-sequitur. If we have national health care, and if run well all will benefit and hopefully the cost of health care, will be just that,”cost”.

  12. If you believe that healthcare providers shouldnt make money, I laugh at you. A service provider deserves whatever the equilibrium demand price is for its service. If this price is not paid, you get a shortage. Many socialized systems take on debt to make up for this shortage. Many still have shortages. Only nothing comes from nothing. To alow your emotions to convince you that your society deserves more than its economy can provide, including healthcare, is naivety. People are not entitled to health. Health must be pursued with discipline and hard work, not voting. Lets not socialize, lets not allow our government to cancel our life saving operations because it wants to budget a new bus route, lets not screw our doctors because they work very hard and deserve fair compensation – money. Think about justice. If you want to help people, donate to charity or start your own foundation by your own free will- fix the problem yourself, dont hand it to politicians

  13. I have yet to see the film, but will likely see it soon lest I leave myself open to accusations of closed-mindedness. However, I do not feel compelled to see it for any personal reasons. I understand fully what Moore’s intent and tactics are, and how unfortunately effective they can be. Although it is necessary to identify and expose the flaws and dishonesty inherent in such a film, Moore is making an emotional appeal, primarily, that is somewhat anti-intellectual in nature. Moore does not want you to consider why the cost of health care in the US is massively inflated. He is not interested in understanding the nature of the problem or how to correct it. He is on a crusade to characterize the current situation as the product of free-markets. This is not the case, and anyone concerned with their own health, not to mention freedom, should understand this. The net effect of over-regulated ‘free-market’ health care that we have today is, in practice, worse in some ways than what we see (superficially) in countries with socialized medicine. The potential of truly free-market health care can hardly be imagined in this context. If health care were truly deregulated (FDA, insurance mandates, etc.) medicine would soon become so affordable that the idea of even having insurance to cover common medical expenses would seem silly.

  14. It really comes down to a mind set issue. The idea that Health care and Education should be profitable is baffling. We have to understand the history of capitalism in America. American’s disturbing history of slavery. Then we’ll begin to understand why all these things were put in place. An unequal level playing field had to be created to maintain the social order we now see in America.

  15. Sicko brings up some interesting points. The healthcare system in the US certianly needs to be rethought. At the same time, lambassting insurance companies, drug companies, etc. for making a profit is ridiculous. Profit motive is what encourages them to provide services and care. Without the profit motive, you have shortages and a lack of innovation. In the case of insurance companies (particularly managed care), the profit motive is directed in the wrong direction – cutting health benefits. The regulations need to change to keep the insurance companies from micro-managing care and thus, benefiting from cutting service.

  16. THIS REVIEWER OF SICKO IS COMPLETELY BIASED. i think that he has been paid by the Insurance company. he definitely has a biased mindset and is interested in his own money. shame! shame!

  17. It has been years since the movie came out and I just saw “Sicko”. The only thing I can do is shake my head that in the US, profit is held above someones health.

    I lived in Germany for 5 years and received treatment (out-patient surgery) for one item. While working in Canada, I had an accident and received treatment for a different issue.

    When I think about how both scenareos would have played out here in the US, I feel that I came out better in the overseas / over-the-border hospitals than I would have here.

    I say that because the system here is based on the processing of numbers. You wait for ever in a room to be seen by the doctor for 5 minutes. What can he determine in this short period of time?!? Then afterwards, you are given the latest expensive pill being pushed by the drug industry and then kicked out so that the next patient can be processed.

    I also notice that much emphasis in western non-US countries is placed on preventive care. Here, the store aisles are filled with crap like potato chips, pizzas, desserts that might as well be straight sugar and “healthy” choices that make you wonder what is in it (esp. after seeing the contents). The non-organic veggies are fertilized to death and the meat-producing animals are doped up on hormones (has anyone wondered why nowadays the 12 year old looks more like an 18 year old?)

    Spas are reserved for the rich and well-to-do here while outside the US, they are readily accessible (at a GOOD PRICE) by the common man.

    And on, and on, and on.

    I love the US. I have no problems with capitalism – but – some items – like quality health care, education, a good work-life balance: just should not be for sale to the highest bidder!


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