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CRITICAL CONDITION
W.S. Merwin, photo by Robin Holland
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August 21, 2009

THE JOURNAL presents CRITICAL CONDITION, a documentary in which ordinary hard-working Americans tell their stories of battling critical illnesses without health insurance. They discover that being uninsured can cost them their jobs, health, homes, savings, and even their lives.

The country spends more than $2 trillion a year — over $6,000 per person — on health care, yet is the only major industrial nation without universal coverage. Between 45 and 47 million Americans live without health insurance, and 80 percent of them are from working families who either cannot afford insurance premiums or lose their insurance exactly when they need it most: when they fall ill and can no longer work. America ranks 24th in life expectancy, 28th in preventing infant mortality and 19th in halting preventable deaths.

>Find out more about America's uninsured.

Updates

Since producer Roger Weisberg first reported on the families profiled in CRITICAL CONDITION, here's what has happened to them.

In the aftermath of Joe's death, his widow Dale has been struggling to raise their granddaughter alone. She still receives collection notices for outstanding medical bills and continues to blame Joe's passing on his lack of insurance.

Carlos Benitez is without great pain for the first time in years and four inches taller since his surgery. He returned to his chef's job at a French restaurant but still has no insurance. Even if he could pay, his pre-existing condition probably means no insurance company would cover him. He takes pain medication that he buys much cheaper in Mexico and has a soft tissue lump on his chest which remains undiagnosed - he can't afford the X-rays he needs.

Six months after CRITICAL CONDITION was completed, Karen Dove had a recurrence of her cancer. She opted for an oral drug protocol but a serious side effect of the treatment sent her back to the hospital, where she contracted pneumonia and died at 50 years old.

Her husband Ronnie is living with his daughter. He got a job at a grocery store that has an insurance plan. But the medical bills for his wife's treatment keep coming - they may pile up to as much as $150,000 dollars. Ronnie, who lives from paycheck to paycheck, has only been able to pay back a tiny fraction of what's owed.

Additional Video

The POV's CRITICAL CONDITION Web site presents two additional stories of American families struggling without health insurance.

Your Money or Your Life: An uninsured father struggles to treat his diabetes and support his family.

Uncovered: A family with two young girls with developmental problems find out their health insurance has been terminated.

Roger Weisberg

Veteran documentary filmmaker Weisberg's 30 previous films have earned more than 100 awards, including Emmy, duPont-Columbia and Peabody awards, as well as two Academy Award nominations (in 2001 for SOUND AND FURY and in 2003 for WHY CAN'T WE BE A FAMILY AGAIN?). He has made the American health care system a special focus of his work with such films as WHAT'S AILING MEDICINE, OUR CHILDREN AT RISK, BORDERLINE MEDICINE, WHO LIVES, WHO DIES and CAN'T AFFORD TO GROW OLD. Recent productions include WAGING A LIVING about low-wage workers struggling to achieve the elusive American dream, ROSEVELT’S AMERICA about the efforts of a Liberian refugee to build a new life for his family in America, AGING OUT about teens who leave foster care and suddenly discover that they’re on their own, and WITH NO DIRECTION HOME about the efforts of an abused and neglected teenager to take control of his life. You can find out more about Weisberg's films at Public Policy Productions.
Related Media:
Medical practitionersWendell Potter
With almost 20 years inside the health insurance industry, Wendell Potter saw private insurers hijack our health care system and put profits before patients. Now, he speaks with Bill Moyers about how those companies are standing in the way of health care reform. (July 10, 2009)

Medical practitionersMarcia Angell and Trudy Lieberman
Bill Moyers sits down with Trudy Lieberman, director of the health and medical reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor in chief of the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. (July 24, 2009)

Medical practitionersRobert Reich
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich sits down with Bill Moyers to talk about the influence of lobbyists on policy, the economy, and the ongoing debate over health care. (June 12, 2009)

Medical practitionersReforming Health Care
Washington's abuzz about health care, but why isn't a single-payer plan an option on the table? Public Citizen's Dr. Sidney Wolfe and Physicians for a National Health Program's Dr. David Himmelstein on the political and logistical feasibility of health care reform. (May 22, 2009)

References and Reading:

CRITICAL CONDITION
The Web site from PBS POV's presentation of the film has a wealth of interesting features including an interview with Roger Weisberg, an audio conversation about the eocnomics of health care, and a comparison of the proposals put forward by presidential candidates McCain and Obama.

Lesson Plan: The U.S. Health Care Crisis Critical Condition tells the stories of four uninsured Americans as they battle illness over a two-year period. Classrooms can use this lesson to examine health insurance coverage in America and create public service announcements to connect the uninsured with free and subsidized health care services. (includes 3 additional video clips with discussion questions)

Original Three-Part Podcast Series:

Audio Podcast #1 – Healthcare Positions of Presidential Candidates Representatives from the McCain and Obama campaigns debate the finer points of each candidate’s health care plans at the California Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Participants: E. Richard Brown, Director, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, Health Policy Advisor, 2008 Barack Obama Presidential Campaign; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Economist; Senior Policy Advisor, 2008 John McCain Presidential Campaign.

Audio Podcast #2 – The Economics of Health Care in the U.S. and Abroad WNYC's Political Director Andrea Bernstein interviews Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt about the candidates' plans, the lessons the United States might learn from the experiences of other countries and how rising health care costs are affecting the U.S. economy.

Audio Podcast #3 – Options for the Unisured We have nearly 47 million uninsured Americans who may require health care at some point in 2008. Where should they go? Based on the information gathered for the Healthcare Mash-up Map we will bring together experts to discuss options available for the uninsured.

See what has come of the reform efforts with The Kaiser Family Foundation's Side-by-side comparison of the major health care reform proposals.
Assembled and frequently updated by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Following the Money: Health Care
Use this BILL MOYERS JOURNAL guide to trace campaign contributions, ad spending and the revolving door between industry and government.

The Health Care Reform Plans
Use this BILL MOYERS JOURNAL guide to follow the debate over the many different health care plans.

Also This Week:
CRITICAL CONDITION
Filmmaker Roger Weisberg puts a human face to the 47 million uninsured in America in CRITICAL CONDITION. The film follows families fighting illness without health coverage.

WHO ARE THE UNINSURED?
What are the costs in dollars and premature death?

COMING UP ON THE JOURNAL
The film MONEY-DRIVEN MEDICINE reveals how a profit-hungry “medical-industrial complex” has turned health care into a system where millions are squandered on unnecessary tests, unproven and sometimes unwanted procedures and overpriced prescription drugs.

>>THE JOURNAL ON HEALTH CARE
Complete coverage of health care on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
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