Moore’s Sicko reveals a sick system

by Jim Longworth

I recently viewed Michael Moore’s brilliant documentary Sicko, and the film definitely lives up to its hype. Billed as “comedy, poignancy, and outrage,” it is all three in spades. In fact, if you aren’t moved by this film, then you’re not human.

Sicko is vintage Moore in that it features lots of subtle humor mixed with pathos. But it is also different because, unlike his previous films which appeal mainly to liberals, his target this time around is the unscrupulous health insurance industry, an entity we all love to hate, regardless of our political affiliations.

Yes, Moore reminds us that nearly 50 million Americans are without medical insurance, but his primary focus is on what happens to those of us who have insurance, but are denied care when we need it most.

Citing one horror story after another, Moore demonstrates how the high cost of medical care can bankrupt families who pay, or devastate those who can’t. And while several hospital chains are mentioned, the clear villain is the insurance industry, which fleeces customers when they’re healthy then denies claims when they’re sick.

Featured in the film are two courageous employees of major insurance companies. One, a medical director, testified before Congress how she was rewarded for denying claims. Another, a customer-service representative, broke down in tears as she recounted telephone conversations she had with patients who were about to be denied the medical care they needed.

The fact is that here in America, insurance companies profit by denying claims, not by helping people. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, though not targeted specifically in the film, demonstrates the problem. Its top executives make over $2 million per year, and last year gave themselves 20 percent raises while jacking up our premiums by that same amount.

But in Sicko, Moore doesn’t just complain about the problem; he offers a solution by asking viewers to support HR 676, which would give free health care to all Americans. Conservative leaders want us to believe that such a bill would lead to socialized medicine. Ironically, those same politicians benefit from free, government-sponsored health care. I guess what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.

Moreover, demagogues like Bush, O’Reilly and Limbaugh also like to spout the party line about how government-sponsored health care is a disaster in other countries. And so, Moore visited England, France, Norway and Cuba for a firsthand look. In each nation, medical care was dispensed for free, and with much more compassion than we receive here in the Land of Milk and Honey.

In France, doctors still make house calls, and the emphasis is on prevention and proper recuperation time. New mothers even get free assistance from government-provided nannies. In England, the most anyone pays for medicine is about six pounds, regardless of the type or quantity of drug. Those who can’t pay receive prescriptions for free. Norway also offers free health care and even one-year maternity leave. Such policies are possible in part because the government there owns all of the oil reserves, and allocates their profits to health care and other human services. And then there’s the film’s most eye-opening excursion: Moore, accompanied by three boatloads of Americans who had been denied the medical care they needed, peacefully invaded communist Cuba. The US patients included three EMS workers and firefighters from New Jersey who had been injured or became ill as a result of their rescue efforts during 9-11. The Cubans welcomed Moore’s entourage and provided them with state-of-the-art care.

Somewhere along the way, we Americans have become gullible. We believe everything the government tells us (example: “Medical care in Europe is sub-standard and inefficient”), and we’ve lost our will to fight back (example: “If you speak out against the war, you are unpatriotic”). As one English politician points out, each US Congressman is employed by about 240,000 citizens. But instead of us telling our employee what to do, the employee dictates how we live and then sells us out to insurance companies who only cover healthy people.

I hope that HR 676 passes, but I’m not holding my breath. And with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich, don’t count on any of this year’s crop of presidential candidates pushing for free health care for all citizens. Even Hillary, who fought the good fight in the last decade, is now the second leading recipient of campaign contributions from the health care industry, whose lobbyists now outnumber congressmen by a margin of four to one.

And so, here in America, politicians get free health care, insurance executives get million-dollar bonuses, and the rest of us just get sicker and poorer.

Boy am I glad I don’t live in England, France or Norway.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48 (cable channel 15).