I was lucky enough to snag a ticket for an advanced screening of Michael Moore's new documentary on the American health care industry last night, with a post-film Q&A with the director, and I have to say this is probably Moore's best film yet and definitely worth seeing.
The main strength of SiCKO is that it offers a balanced view, with something for everyone, without sacrificing the truth. Moore eases off the vitriol as well, and while the film has lots of serious, heart-wrenching, "how can we live with a system that is so cruel" moments, it also has its funny, light-hearted, and warm moments, and a couple of moments that were punctuated by applause from the audience -- made up largely of doctors and nurses.
Long time proponents of universal care will find that the movie largely restates things they've always known: treating health care as a profit-driven commodity makes about as much sense as treating police protection, fire protection, or adoption as profit-driven commodities.
But for independents and conservatives, the film is a real eye-opener. There's a great montage of clips of Hillary Clinton, cowering in flowery dresses and acting like anything but a future President in the wake of the defeat of her health care plan (I loved the scene with Big Bird). There's an interview with a Conservative Party member from Canada -- who looks like he could just as easily be golfing in Wilmette -- sharing his experiences with both the American and Canadian health care systems. And there's a great interview with one of the many doctors who "suffers" under Great Britain's Socialized Health Care System. That is if you can consider living in a $1 million four-bedroom flat in London's posh Greenwich neighborhood, with a family of three, driving an Audi, and pulling down $200,000 a year "suffering." Which, BTW, he didn't.
For me, the film pointed out serious flaws in Governor Blagojevich's "Illinois Covered" proposal, which relies on private insurance companies to deliver health care to the middle class. As the film points out, HMO's were founded 35 years ago on the premise that the way to make money is to deny people coverage for care, and that's how they continue to operate until this day. The film documents how one insurance company simply ran out the clock on one of it's insureds. Denying his claim and tying it up in red tape for so long -- laughingly calling a simple bone marrow transplant for his cancer "experimental" -- until he finally died. Guess what? Insurance companies pay nothing when you die.
Lt. Governor Pat Quinn was there, perhaps someone should ask him what he thought.
On the other hand, the film does offer some intermediate steps that lawmakers could take to improve the current system without replacing it all together. Chief among them: end the insurance company practice of setting quotas and providing bonuses for denying claims.
Moore said afterward that he hopes the film will serve as a tipping point in the debate over universal care in America, much as "An Inconvenient Truth" tipped the deb over global warming (the films share the same editor, ). The Tribune covered his pre-film rally in Millenium Park here.
I'm a little less optimistic than Moore, noting that the Consumer's Union called universal health care "imminent" back in the 1930's, and if the Great Depression couldn't tip this country toward universal care, I'm not sure one film will.
However, Moore's film could jump start the debate, and for that reason, folks should go see it when it opens for limited release in Chicago this weekend. Listings here.