Abby Harri is a summer 2012 intern with the POV Community Engagement and Production and Programming departments. She majors in Film and Media Studies at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD.
Last Thursday, June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The law was signed in 2010 and intended to address the detrimental effects of millions of uninsured Americans. It was criticized then and, now, with four months to the 2012 Presidential election, the court’s decision is piquing debate once again.
Not so coincidentally, a POV film brought the issue of uninsured Americans to the forefront about a month before the last election, in September 2008, with Roger Weisberg’s Critical Condition. The documentary took the issue of uninsured Americans head-on, weaving through a two-year span of the lives of four people with severe medical issues and no insurance to cover the costs of their illnesses. The documentary speaks for itself, allowing events to unfold uninterrupted and for the audience to see the struggles of these Americans. In Critical Condition, there are no experts who tell you what to think, as Weisberg wrote in an artistic statement on POV’s companion site for the film. It makes the experience an intimately personal one for even the well-insured viewer on his or her couch at home.
And that is what makes Critical Condition a moving and effective POV piece. It is an evocation from the hearts of real Americans facing real health issues and major financial issues as a result. It doesn’t belabor the audience with numbers upon numbers (but does provides a few key statistics as transitions between families). The result is a documentary that avoids a spiral into abstraction, and its broadcast in 2008 was well timed. For campaigns that had failed to do so for us, the film put an edge of humanity on an issue that had been stripped down to a bare, emotionless thread.
Of course, the recent Supreme Court decision is not the end of debate, and has even prompted a few Americans to announce a move to Canada in protest, which is ironic considering Canada has a government-provided health care system. But a look back to Critical Condition is a reminder of the continuing daily struggle of uninsured Americans, and evidence that their voice matters.
Find out more about Critical Condition on its POV companion site, and read a feature that looks at how the film’s subjects might have fared under Obamacare. Interested in using clips from Critical Condition in your classroom? Check out our lesson plan that asks students to work in groups to develop strategies for distributing public service information that connects the uninsured with free and subsidized health care services.