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Notes on Sicko: A Prescription for Change

July 6th, 2007 · 4 Comments · Activism, Culture, Film, Health, Healthcare Crisis, History, Journalism, Media, News, Politics, Science

Sicko Glove PosterI saw Sicko Tuesday night, and it did not disappoint. The main impact for me is this: Watching this film makes it unavoidably clear that we as a nation have been completely duped, conned, and as the kids say, “pwned,” by those who’ve spent millions to convince us that universal healthcare is too expensive, can’t possibly work, and will result in a monstrous bureaucracy where we won’t be able to choose our own doctors, among assorted other scare tactics.

Sicko exposes those lies so cleanly and effortlessly it takes your breath away. I’ve talked with enough friends in the UK to know they’re generally happy with their health care system (and wouldn’t trade places with us on a dare), and the negative propaganda we hear about it in the US is mostly hokum. But still — the experience of watching Sicko is something like waking up from a hallucination.

I think that it will be hard for most people to think about health care the same way after they see it as they did before — even if they’re the sort of person who thinks Michael Moore is a big fat Fidel Castro-loving liar. Just the experience of sitting and confronting these issues for two hours will be enough to cause a sea change in perspective for many people, I think.

And for that reason I think that if enough Americans see this movie, it has the potential to completely reframe the debate in the US — because we as a country will be much, much harder to hoodwink.

In the movie we listen to patients and doctors in Canada, the UK and France talk about how hassle-free and affordable their system is. We listen to American ex-pats talking about feeling almost guilty because they’re being so much better taken care of as guests in those countries than they would be in the US.

And in a particularly shattering moment, we watch an American — suffering from chronic illness she developed as a result of 9-11 rescue work — looking at the same inhalers she has to pay $120 apiece for in the States, and being told they go for the equivalent of five cents in Cuba. The look on her face is unforgettable. It’s the look of someone realizing that one of the worst ordeals she’s been through as a person didn’t have to happen. That she’s been conned.

Even those critics who go looking for factual flaws in Sicko generally conclude that Moore gets the most important things right. For example, this piece from the Dayton Daily News (warning — annoying registration process required, unless you click on a link from Google News like I did), which finds little faults here and there but grudgingly admits that the most important points in the film are correct. The piece concludes: “‘SiCKO’ got a lot of the little things wrong. But it got most of the big things right.”

I can’t remember who gets the blame for this one, but one of the standard scare lines we got in the 90s, during Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated attempt to reform health care, was that “if the government takes over health care, we’ll wind up with a system that has all the compassion of the IRS and all the efficiency of the US post office.”

It’s a funny line, but anyone who’s still buying into it needs to wake up to one important fact: THAT’S WHAT WE ALREADY HAVE RIGHT NOW. Right this very damn minute.

People are dying every day in this country because of the greed and negligence of the insurance and pharmaceutical countries. People are being denied the bone marrow transplants they need to save their lives; being kicked off their insurance for getting cancer or diabetes or failing to disclose a minor infection they had ten years ago; being told that standard treatments and medication can’t be paid for because they’re “experimental.” People are waiting years for treatment they need but can’t afford. People are losing their savings, their homes, their lives.

I myself spent three years earlier this decade waiting for needed surgery because I couldn’t afford the deductible on my own insurance plan. So don’t try telling me that single-payer healthcare is bad because “it will result in long waits.” I’ve already lived through that, buster, and I have plenty of friends who are or have been in the same boat.

Speaking of Hillary — another important point the movie makes clear is that she’s already lost this battle once, and she’s not going to take the powers that be on again. She’s now completely in the pocket of the insurance and pharma companies. If she gets elected, we get stuck with the same system we’ve got for four more years. If we want reform, we need a candidate who isn’t damaged goods in this arena. (And maybe, just maybe, an experienced and wildly successful trial lawyer, with a history of winning negligence cases against big corporations, might be a good advocate to have in our corner.)

Finally: there’s an interview in the film with a nice Canadian gentleman in a golf cart, who mentions that a man named Tommy Douglas helped Canadians see the light on the importance of universal health care. Like most Americans, my knowledge of Canadian history and politics is embarrassingly bad, so I looked up Tommy Douglas on the Wikipedia. You can read up on him here if you’re so inclined. As mentioned in the film, in 2004 he was voted “Greatest Canadian of All Time” in a contest held by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mister, we could use a man like Tommy Douglas here in the States.

As I said in my previous post about Sicko, we need to stop listening to the people who tell us we can’t implement single-payer health care here. We as a nation can do anything we put our mind to. We’ve proven that time and time again. Where universal health care is concerned, it’s just a matter of getting to the point where we’ll no longer take no for an answer. I’d like to think Sicko will move a big chunk of the country closer to that point.

Previously on Ocelopotamus:


4 Comments so far ↓

  • gadgetgirl

    I’m an American expat of 10 years and I can tell you first hand that the US system sucks donkey balls and that there are some much better systems out there.

    Way back when I lived in the US I sprained my ankle and in doctor fees and pain meds I was out of pocket about $150. Last year I was in and out of hospital for 2 weeks with suspected meningitis. (I’m ok now) I had every test under the sun, had 2 LPs, saw the head of neurology on a SUNDAY and I was out of pocket a grand total $200AUD.

    Now, the Australian system may not get it right all of the time, believe me we have our problems, but at least you know when you NEED to see a doctor, you can. And you can afford it. (I’ll get off my soapbox now, sorry for the hijack)

  • Chris Bell

    Dave wrote:
    “the sort of person who thinks Michael Moore is a big fat Fidel-Castro loving liar”

    or even the sort of person who thinks he’s a Fidel Castro-loving liar…

    Ah yes, the British NHS. As Russell Hoban once observed, it might not be health but it is national…

    ‘User pays’ suits the rich but the long-term cost for them and for everybody else in society make selfishness the more expensive and less effective option. As we’re about to find out in New Zealand.

  • Ocelopotamus

    Gadgetgirl, no worries — not a hijack at all. I think you’re very much on point. Part of the movie’s impact on me was realizing that I would have been spared several years of angst and several thousand dollars if I’d been living in a country with a civilized health care system a few years ago.

    Chris — thanks for the corrective hyphen therapy, which I have implemented. I assume there’s no charge for the diagnosis.

  • Chris Bell

    Dave wrote:

    > Chris — thanks for the corrective hyphen
    > therapy, which I have implemented. I assume > there’s no charge for the diagnosis.

    Of course it’s on the House. :-)