Sicko (2007) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running time: 113 min.

Cast: Michael Moore
Director: Michael Moore

You may not like Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 9/11, Bowling for Columbine) for his politics.  You may not like the tactics he employs when he makes his documentaries, either.  However, even if he has an agenda in mind before setting forth on making his documentaries, there's no point denying that he sets the table well enough so that we can at least discuss the merits of what he's talking about, which is, after all, all he is really asking for. 

In the case if Sicko, Moore examines the state of the American health care industry and its current reliance on the health care insurance companies to govern who gets treated and who doesn't.  While the film itself is heavily lopsided against the American system, and heavily favorable when discussing any country that has universal coverage, one thing remains abundantly clear: a health care industry that seeks to deny the neediest, sickest of people is not a health care system that most people would want.  Yet, that's what we have.  And it's largely because the health insurance companies want to make even more billions of dollars through habitually denying the funding of medical care to those who couldn't afford even a fraction of it otherwise.

The tactics taken by Moore in exposing the U.S. health care industry is twofold.  His first attack comes in the form of horror stories.  One after the other, Moore gives us examples of people who could have been saved if not for the fact that the health insurance companies denied the patient's treatment because of a technicality, it wasn't deemed necessary, they went to the wrong hospital, or they just weren't going to follow rules.  A man is needs an organ transplant, and has a perfect donor -- but the procedure is deemed "experimental", and the company won't cover it -- he dies.  A deaf girl is denied a procedure to restore some semblance of hearing in both ears because the procedure is also considered experimental (though the insurance company changes their tune once they receive a letter that they may be featured in Moore's doc).  On and on, Moore serves up the hard cases and the tragedies that have befallen what appear to be good and honest people who have no reason to be denied except for the fact that their procedures are costly.

Moore's other line of attack is to compare the American system to that of countries who have socialized health care (pretty much all of the rest of the Western world).  In these countries, people just walk into the nearest hospital for treatment, get served without having to fill out endless amounts of paperwork, and then get treated without having to pay at the end.  Some of the hospitals featured don't even ask who the person is or if they are a citizen.  One hospital even pays customers money at the end so that they can afford a ride home after a treatment.  Another system offers new mothers laundry service.  In all cases shown, the people who use the health care system in these various countries wouldn't trade it for the one the United States has now.

Even if Moore doesn't present a balance between people who have contrary opinions to that which is spotlighted, his methods prove to be effective in demonstrating why the American medical system is in the business of generating profit, and not in helping sick people.  Although no one is out and out denied necessary care (if they have the money, they'll get it), for all practical purposes, the costs are so astronomical for even the simplest of procedures, most people could not afford it.  One man who lacked health insurance sliced off the tips of two of his fingers, and it would have cost him $60,000 to get the tip of his middle finger re-attached.  Why does it cost this much?  No real reason is given.  The man has one less fingernail to clip to this day.

Moore's documentary is a bit lengthy, and somewhat redundant in parts, but it is very compelling nonetheless.  The most damning case against the US health care industry comes in the final hour of the film, where Moore shows us three people who are considered to be heroes of 9/11, those who volunteered to help the fallen in the World Trade Center.  They selflessly joined in assisting in the search and care of those who needed it most, and when it turns out that their own health has been compromised due to being exposed to the chemicals unleashed and other hazardous materials, they have practically lost everything in trying to afford the medicine they need to be treated. 

In the cleverest argument of them all, Moore ties in the lack of care provided to the country's heroes to that of our villains, the Al Qaeda terrorist suspects being harbored in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Through the statements made by politicians and those who work at the prison camp, much is played up about how these prisoners are receiving the medical care they need, and that they are never left wanting, getting exactly the same kind of care that those who work there are getting.  Meanwhile, 9/11 volunteers get the cold shoulder because they were never working officially for an authorized agency when they decided to help out.

Moore goes a step further, taking the 9/11 volunteers to Guantanamo Bay to try to get the same treatment that the terrorists do, but are shunned away.  Meanwhile, they head into Cuba, one of America's staunchest of adversaries, and are treated immediately, and with great care.  A woman whose inhalers cost her $120 in the US gets them in a pharmacy for the equivalent of five cents.  All of them get better medical care than they were ever shown in the US, and the doctors operate out of the notion that they are trying to help in any way they can, instead of the current practice of some US physicians to find a way not to treat their patients.

I know that horror stories could be pointed out in these other countries.  Anyone who has ever seen The Death of Mr. Lazarescu will know that the medical system in most countries is pretty screwed up all around, for a variety of reasons.  Politicians who rally against socialized health care always seem to point out that people from other countries come to the United States because they can get better treatment from more qualified doctors than in their own countries.  True, if you can afford it, you'll probably get everything you need in the US.  The best doctors from around the world move here to work because they can get ridiculously wealthy here, which is why, if you're a millionaire, you can get the best health care money can buy. 

Moore's documentary is for the people who have health care, but are not able to get the assistance they need despite it.  We have a system where hospitals turn down patients because they need to go to a different one across town.  We have an industry that employs health insurance hit men to scour every detail in the patient's paperwork to find one thing they were incorrect about or omitted in order to deny them coverage.  We have people who are sick or dying being literally escorted out of hospitals because they cannot afford the procedures they need to get better.   We have a system that rewards health care professionals for keeping people from getting treatment they desperately need, and for making their companies wealthier.

The American health care system could be called sick itself, but it has plenty of insurance -- politicians in power are rewarded immensely by corporate health care lobbies through generous contributions.  With this kind of insurance, it's a certainty that no matter how much worse the health care situation condition gets, these politicians will never deny ample coverage, so long as they keep getting the money.  Because in America, you can get the best medical care money can buy, so long as you have plenty of money to give.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo