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Sicko 1Los Angeles, CA, June 25, 2007 — In an after screening Q&A held at the plushly carpeted theater in the Director’s Guild headquarters, moderated by uber-director Ron “Opie” Howard (who agreed to take on this chore because it was the only way he could get a ticket to the hottest event in town), Michael Moore talked about his latest film, “Sicko”, and his prescription for curing America’s health care system. His film veers from humor to pathos, to tragedy to adventure as he dissects the reasons we (the United States) haven’t adopted a system like the rest of the industrialized democracies loosely defined as single payer national health care. His irreverent but heartfelt approach provokes laughter, tears and real intellectual stimulation as he sets off on his quixotic quest with the zeal of Mike Wallace, the biting social humor of Lenny Bruce and the concern for the afflicted of Florence Nightingale.

The most talked about sequence, the one that’s landed him in hot water with the Bush Administration, shows Moore and a raggedy band of middle-aged, formerly middle class, people who’ve been physically and financially ruined by their deficient health care and its costs. Several are suffering from the serious medical affects of too much time spent volunteering for rescue and clean-up duty at Ground Zero after 9/11. We join them as they set out in a flotilla of chartered boats headed for the American base at Guantanamo, Cuba. They’ve heard that prisoners at “Gitmo” receive world class health care. Moore reasons that if Al Queada members can get great medical services from our government shouldn’t these heroes from 9/11 be afforded the same?

Apparently not. Instead of being met with a hero’s welcome, alarms are set off as the boats approach the harbor and Moore’s Navy heads for Havana where they investigate the state of health in the capital of America’s enemy.

They’re shocked to find (or at least they appear to be shocked) that drug prices are remarkably lower. An inhaler that sells for $120 in the States is $.05 in Havana. A big difference to the woman who’s monthly Social Security check provides her with a fixed income of $1500. This adds up to quite a financial hit since she needs 6 of these a month.

Sicko 1It’s not only drug prices. All medical, hospital and doctors services are free and, by all appearances, thorough and competent. Certainly, a dogged investigative reporter would uncover some shortcomings in the Cuban health care delivery system but I think it’s safe to say that there’s something to be said for providing this to everyone – even to citizens of a country that’s your sworn enemy.

Moore related that he once produced an episode for his short lived documentary/reality NBC series, “The Awful Truth,” that pitted doctors from Canada, the US and Cuba against one another in a contest of competency and cost. Cuba’s highly proficient team came in first with the price for setting a broken leg of zero followed by Canada’s $15 (because of a co-pay charge for crutches) and in last place – well it doesn’t matter, I think you know. What’s interesting was the revelation that he received a call from a woman, one of NBC’s “censors,” (actually she was from “Standards and Practices” as the network calls it) telling him that he had to reedit the story because, “Cuba doesn’t win on NBC.”

This incident brought home the fact that we’ve been lied to and misled by the media, the American Medical Association, the drug companies and the health care providers/HMOs (the medical industrial complex, MIC) who’ve used their flacks, such as Ronald Reagan, to whip up fear of socialized medicine in the United States. Old clips of Reagan pimping for the AMA and a host of other fear mongers are sprinkled throughout the film and seen alongside contemporary news footage of our current crop of drug company toadies like former Representative Tauzin who left Congress to take a $2-million a year job as the drug industry’s spokesperson. This opportunity opened up for him after he pushed through the so-called Senior Citizen’s drug benefit by shrouding it in the cloak of being good for his momma. Such a good boy.

Moore shows how this medical hit squad has duped the American public into believing that our system is the best while it provides less and less for more and more money. We see the results. People are going broke, some are dying and hospitals are dumping disoriented patients on the streets of skid row in Los Angeles.

Sicko 3This film contrasts the dystopian American experience with what it’s like in Cuba, Canada, England and France where the government provides you with cradle to grave, free comprehensive health care. France even kicks in with a nanny to help with childcare, cooking and if you want, the laundry. Moore deals with the fact that this is not cheap by interviewing an English Member of Parliament who explains that, after World War Two the feeling was that they’d found the money to buy bullets to beat the Nazis and they could find the money to build a health care system. He goes on to say that this is an issue that cuts across party lines in the UK. If Maggie Thatcher or John Major had tried to gut the public health system, “there would have been a revolution.”

The myth that this impoverishes physicians is disputed by a visit to a doctor’s million dollar, four bedroom, three-story home that reveals he leads a relatively prosperous upper-middle class existence. He confesses he could probably make more money in the US but he likes being rewarded for improving the health of his patients in the UK and wouldn’t thrive in a system built on withholding care.

Instead of a senseless war in Iraq America could have built a health care system here but as Moore pointed out, “I’m never going to buy the argument that there isn’t enough money. We’re going to spend a trillion dollars in Iraq.” It’s a matter of priorities.

When you add up all the costs for our current system of health insurance the extra money we’d spend on taxes is probably less than what we pay collectively now for a patchwork of increasingly expensive and mediocre care that fewer and fewer can afford. Of course, Moore and most of the audience at the Directors Guild (DGA) are covered by one of the gold standards plans. Mirroring the hierarchy in the entertainment community the DGA provides its members with coverage that is better than the Writers Guild and SAG. As members of all three guilds or unions (elite Hollywood types don’t like to acknowledge that they belong to a union – it’s so blue collar), both Moore and Howard could choose from any of these plans. This is a rare and privileged position that hasn’t kept him from championing the plight of those who are trapped and victimized by health insurance companies who operate like casino owners.

“The house has to win,” said Moore. “That’s how it works.” The insurance companies make money by taking in premiums and denying payments. Heart wrenching interviews with two former administrators detail how the denial process works and how the deniers are amply rewarded for making sure your claims are rejected.

While his film is short on “wonkish details” this film packs an emotional punch that forges a palpable sense that something isn’t right. But what to do?

Of course, the filmmaker has a website and this one is now overflowing with contacts, things people can do, as well as links and a means to share your own personal health care nightmare.

He also pointed out that while a large number of politicians have been bought off by the MIC, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Michigan Congressperson John Conyers is sponsoring HR 676, The United States National Health Insurance Act, his attempt to give every American, regardless of income, employment status, or race, access to quality, affordable health care services. Moore encouraged everyone in the audience to contact their representative and tell them to support this bill.

Last year Al Gore turned the heat up on global warming and this year Michael Moore has put his prescription for curing America’s ailing health care system at the top of the political agenda just in time to help frame the debate for the upcoming race to the White House.

Make seeing this film a priority and follow Moore’s guidelines, “eat your fruit and veggies, take a walk and get involved.”

For more information:

Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Moore

2007, Dog Eat Dog Films

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