America’s Sicko Health System

Just saw Michael Moore’s latest expose on the American health system – Sicko. A great film from Mr Moore, incisive, emotional and as usual he manages to bring up 9/11 as often as a Republican Presidential candidate, hopefully to more positive ends. The subject of the film is America’s singularly unique approach to healthcare – privatization to an extreme degree. Every US citizen has to pay for their healthcare in monthly payments to private organisations, although more normally this is through their employer. Should the inevitable happen and they need to go to the doctor, their HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) has to pre-approve any charges raised, from the consultation, ambulance trips, x-rays and everything. This all sounds a great win for private industry and free choice (the positive view on HMOs) until it goes wrong and the company’s bottom line becomes more important than saving lives – the situation Moore says now exists.

I’ve had to go through US medical treatment a few times now, with varying levels of medical cover. The first time was due to an icey slip into a puddle which resulted in a sprained tendon that took an age to heal but no major operation thankfully. The slip also resulted in about $5,000 in medical bills from a few hours of emergency room checkups (that weren’t even that quick). Luckily this was all covered, but it would have been an unwelcome cost should my HMO have decided not to pay out. In Moore’s movie the many ways that HMO’s avoid payouts and the impact on peoples’ lives is gone into in detail, often heart wrenching detail as death is regularly involved. Unsurprisingly the government’s link with big business is singled out as a driving factor by Moore, and his old pal George W comes in for the usual treatment.

Having revealed the warts of the US system, Moore then proceeds to wax lyrical about overseas systems based on ‘socialist’ practices – ie, taxes pay for everyone’s health cover however poor, all are equal. Canada, Britain, France and Cuba are examined and Moore acts out his country’s amazement on how well these systems work. As a Brit I know the British system isn’t as wonderful as Moore makes out, but I’m glad we have that rather than the US system. Equal healthcare for all is a wonderful thing, as none of us know who will be unlucky in the good health lottery.

Sicko is a great film, more emotionally wrenching than his previous offerings and a lot more human while staying political as only Moore can. Generally the US doesn’t get much sympathy these days due to its oil driven global policies, but this film reminds us that the citizens of the US are often the ones who suffer. Hopefully this movie will help drive positive change for all.

Disclaimer: Many years ago I did some work for Humana, one of the HMO’s mentioned in the film. In fact when you watch the film and see the ridiculously huge and be-marbled Humana offices in Louisville, look at the small brick building to the right – that’s where we were working.

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