TOPICS > Health

Moore Movie Takes Aim at American Health Care

June 29, 2007 at 4:53 PM EDT

MICHAEL MOORE, Filmmaker: … four health care lobbyists for every member of Congress.

SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent: In “Sicko,” filmmaker Michael Moore looks at the way America pays for health care and hates what he sees.

INTERVIEWEE: The intent is to maximize profit.

SUSAN DENTZER: In previous films, Moore attacked everything from General Motors to the gun lobby to the policies of President Bush. Now he takes on health care in a manner much of the public may or may not agree with.

“Sicko” comes amid growing public dissatisfaction with U.S. health care and rising momentum for reform. In a recent poll for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, voters rated health care second only to the war in Iraq as the issue they most wanted presidential candidates to address. And 74 percent of voters said they’d support a reform plan that provided health insurance for everybody and involved at least some increase in spending.

In a reprise of the managed care bashing of the 1990s, “Sicko” criticizes insurance companies for denying coverage for care.

MICHAEL MOORE: Laura Burnham was in a 45 mile-an-hour head-on collision that knocked her out cold. Paramedics got her out of the car and into an ambulance for a trip to the hospital.

LAURA BURNHAM, Interviewed in “Sicko”: I get a bill from my insurance company telling me that the ambulance ride was not going to be paid for because it wasn’t pre-approved. I don’t know exactly when I was supposed to pre-approve it, you know, like, after I gained consciousness in the car, before I got in the ambulance?

Comparing America to other nations

SUSAN DENTZER: Moore's film also sings the virtues of government- financed-and-delivered health care. He visits a hospital in Britain's National Health Service, or NHS.

HOSPITAL WORKER: In the NHS, everything is free.

MICHAEL MOORE: I'm asking about hospital charges, and you're laughing. What did they charge you for that baby?

FATHER OF NEWBORN: No, no. Everything's on NHS. It's not America.

SUSAN DENTZER: Moore eventually finds one U.S. version of what he's seeking: the government-paid-and-delivered health care provided to terrorist detainees at Guantanamo. He takes ailing 9/11 rescue workers along for the ride.

MICHAEL MOORE: Permission to enter. I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They just want some medical attention, the same kind that the evildoers are getting. Hello?

SUSAN DENTZER: Before a screening for a handful of lobbyists in Washington last week, Moore said his goal wasn't just to make a movie, but to launch a movement.

MICHAEL MOORE: My general hope is that we have a free universal health care system for all Americans and that no private company acts as a middleman determining whether or not someone gets care.

A backlash against current policy

SUSAN DENTZER: Not surprisingly, both "Sicko" and Moore's calls for change have prompted a backlash. On one Web site linked to the pro-market Manhattan Institute, a video attacks delays in getting care through Canada's largely government-financed system.

LINDSAY MCCREITH, Retired Body Shop Owner: They don't care how long you wait, they'll get to you sooner or later. But it's free. It's free.

MAN ON VIDEO: Lindsay McCreith, a retired body shop owner from Newmarket, Ontario, began having headaches and had a seizure in January of 2006. Both he and his doctor suspected a possible brain tumor. He needed an MRI fast. How long was the wait?


SUSAN DENTZER: Meanwhile, U.S. health insurers complain that the film focuses solely on a few company missteps, while neglecting their role in improving and broadening access to care. Karen Ignagni heads the industry's trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans.

KAREN IGNAGNI, President, America's Health Insurance Plans: Do occasional mistakes happen? Absolutely. But the context that's important here is that our members are providing coverage to 260 million Americans every year. What the movie misses is an examination of the tools and techniques that we've brought to the delivery system that help us coordinate care better, that help us treat disease earlier, that help people live more productive lives.

The ongoing debate over health care

SUSAN DENTZER: In the end, Moore's piece could simply be the latest salvo in an old debate over how to provide and pay for health care, says health economist Paul Ginsburg.

PAUL GINSBURG, President, Center for Studying Health System Change: It's been going on for many, many decades and I'm sure will continue to go on for many decades.

SUSAN DENTZER: Ginsburg, who heads the Washington-based Center for Studying Health System Change, adds that Moore's vision of free universal care is overly idealistic.

PAUL GINSBURG: There's no system in the world that has health care as free without constraining it. Other countries tend to use waiting lists and other mechanisms to constrain the amount of health care to what their society is willing to pay for.

SUSAN DENTZER: Among this year's presidential candidates, only one -- Democrat Dennis Kucinich -- is espousing anything like Moore's cure. Instead, most candidates who have put forward reform plans are calling for steps to expand both private and public health coverage.

PAUL GINSBURG: A lot of savvy people have already made their judgments that this is not the time -- even if they personally believe in single-payer systems -- that it's not politically feasible now, and they don't want to just have an argument and not get anything done. They're going to get the best deal they can, but they really want a deal.

SUSAN DENTZER: "Sicko" opens in several hundred theaters across the country today.