We’re all sickos

I recently saw the movie “SiCKO” and I thought it was Michael Moore’s best yet.  I’m not a huge fan of his films…I like some things about them, but other things are a bit over-the-top and unnecessary.  This time, though, I think he did most of it right.   It certainly had an impact:   it left me feeling disturbed, angry, and a bit hopeless.

While watching this movie you can’t help but think, “How in the world can this happen?  Why are they being treated (or not treated) this way?”  And the answer that came into my mind each time was simple:  greed.  Even in the business of healing the sick, money takes priority over all else.  Greed boots the uninsured out of hospitals while paying big bonuses to healthcare executives.  It creates the bullshit excuses for denying claims.  It sustains this fucked-up system that gives treatment only to those with enough money and keeps the public fearful of change.  I pay for health insurance which means I feed this same system, but it’s my only option and it leaves me feeling helpless to do anything about it.  This film will piss you off and make you wonder if this is really America the Beautiful, because the things it shows us are deeply, disturbingly ugly.  Best healthcare in the world?  This film begs to differ, and anyone who thinks there’s no room for change owes it to themselves to give it a look.  This isn’t about liberal vs. conservative bullshit, and I know the issue is vastly complicated, but to me it mostly boils down to greed.

Time for a non-professional review.  Here’s what I liked:

  • A variety of opinions from a variety of places.  Moore not only shows us the darker side of our system but gives us examples of systems that work in other countries, which provides a little hope and possibly a little fuel for the fire.  They might not be wholly realistic alternatives at this point, but I’m guessing that the vast majority of Americans have no idea how other countries handle healthcare (myself included, except in a very general sense).  One thing that took me by surprise was how big an emphasis these other systems seem to place on personal responsibility — they encourage people to be more healthy so they don’t have to get so much treatment.  Here in America, we’d rather just swallow more pills and reach for that second bucket of chicken.
  • Stunning examples of healthcare industry assholery. Interviews with people who deny claims for a living, elderly uninsured people being shipped away from hospitals in taxis without treatment, 9/11 rescue workers unable to get treatment, politicians taking healthcare industry money to resist changes to the system (yes, including Hillary), examples of government propaganda aimed at keeping us terrified of any changes…your blood will be boiling by the end of it.
  • Fewer silly stunts.  Typically I have to roll my eyes at some of Moore’s stunts which attempt to prove a point but do little else.  They usually involve him dragging victims of (insert movie’s topic here) to some corporate office and shouting stuff into a megaphone, trying to get someone to accept blame for something or other.  The only stunt he pulled this time was taking a group of sick Americans to Guantanamo Bay to try and get treatment for them.  It had zero chance of working, of course, but it was probably his most point-proving stunt to date, since it showed that even suspected terrorists can get better healthcare than our own citizens.
  • Possibly more trustworthy editing.  Another thing Moore is known for is shifty, tricksy editing of interviews and speeches which can change what someone is actually saying into something closer to what he wants us to hear.  Examples of this are all over the Web, and not just on anti-Moore websites, so I’ll let you investigate that on your own…  But it does happen, and I imagine it happened to some extent in this film as well.  Probably not as much as in his previous films, though, as I don’t think that he had to try too hard to convince us that healthcare sucks in this country.  We all know it and most have experienced it.  In this movie he just lets the interviewees talk and answer questions, with no noticeable fancy editing or the like.

What I didn’t like so much:

  • What, no flaws?  When examining the healthcare systems of other countries, Moore made them out to be practically perfect.  He also used the term “free healthcare” quite a lot.  He didn’t spotlight the fact that in many countries, like Germany for example, people who make good money pay upwards of 60% in taxes to pay for the healthcare system and other “free” services.  This would go over like a lead zeppelin here in America — people just don’t want to pay that much, even though they bitch about how much their doctors charge.  I’ve also read that in countries with universal healthcare, you might not find urgent-care hospitals close by if you live outside of a big city…you may have to travel quite a ways to get treatment if you’re in the suburbs.  This may not be 100% true everywhere, but it’s a point that many have brought up when discussing what this film chooses to show and not show.  Of course I can’t speak from experience with regard to healthcare in Europe or Canada, but I don’t recall him covering these angles in the movie.  (Some also question the quality of care under these systems, but I suppose quality can vary under any system.)
  • Sappy narration.  This is completely superficial and doesn’t have anything to do with the issues at hand, but in this movie Moore’s narration can take on a whiny, pull-those-heartstrings-as-hard-as-possible tone.  At times he’ll talk slower and drag his words out as if baby-talking to an infant; I know he simply meant to sound sympathetic, but it got pretty irritating by the end of the film.  He didn’t do it all through the movie, fortunately.  It’s not necessary, Michael — we’re already on your side on this one.

So!  If you saw the movie, what did y’all think? Is Moore full of shit on this one or do you think he’s got the right idea?  And even more importantly, do you think we’ll ever make the sweeping changes needed to shift our system’s focus from “me” to “we”?  Personally I don’t have much hope for that — we tend to get outraged about stuff and then do nothing about it.  The fact that we can’t even stop lobbyists from bribing our politicians says volumes about our priorities.  (Actually, the fact that Paris Hilton still gets press coverage says about as much…)

As a side note, I happen to work for a (non-profit) health insurance company, and this added an extra layer to the movie for me.  We’ve been encouraged to discuss the movie at work as well as on our intranet message boards, and it’s been interesting to see what people have said about the issues.  I don’t work with claims or anything like that, so I can’t accurately say how my company ranks with the horror stories (despite our high customer satisfaction ratings, ahem)…but I can say that the people running the company know that something needs to change drastically in favor of the patient.  A couple of years ago they put a plan in motion to “transform” the business in this regard, which involves too many details to cover here, but the changes they’ve been making have caused some upheaval which affects every aspect of the company, so it’s not just lip service.  Time will tell how well it’s working, but at least the company is trying to make some improvements within the system.  The sticky part is trying to make improvements inside a system that sucks to begin with.  Gotta start somewhere, I suppose… It makes me wonder what other companies are doing.

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