Sunday, February 12, 2017

Film Review: Sicko

**** (out of ****)

When documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore, released "Sicko" (2007), his cynical / satirical "editorial" on the American healthcare system, we were getting ready for a presidential election. Healthcare, at the time, wasn't the major issue for voters. If you remember correctly, the 2008 presidential election was supposed to be about the Iraq War, that is why to two leading candidates, for their "respected" parties were Barack Obama and John McCain, men that were opposed to (Obama) and supportive (McCain) of the war. But then a "funny" thing happened, George W. Bush and the Republican party bankrupted the country.

In the brutal aftermath of another presidential election I thought about Michael Moore's documentary. Now healthcare is on a lot of people's mind. The current chancellor vowed to repeal and replace Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) and replace it "with something terrific" (whatever that means). But, things aren't going as well as the Republicans and the chancellor would have liked.

"Sicko" represents a system we might go back to if Republicans repeal the current healthcare law without replacing it, or at least that is everyone's fear.

When "Sicko" was first released I enjoyed it quite a bit. I called it one of the best movies of 2007, the second time Michael Moore made a documentary which made my top ten list, "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004) was the first. As a fan of it, I remembered a lot of what was in it and how angry it made me. Watching "Sicko" again, it affected me the same way. It is still powerful, persuasive and informative. It argues in defense of free, universal healthcare, as America is the only country in the Western world without it. On a personal level, for me, there is no good reason to argue against it and Mr. Moore hits on some of the standard talking points fed (brainwashed) to the public over the decades of why such a system wouldn't work in the greatest country in the world.

To clarify a point, Mr. Moore's documentary is not about the, at the time, 50 million uninsured Americans, instead "Sicko" is about those that have insurance and the cracks within the system which benefit the insurance companies that love taking your money but aren't too keen on paying your medical bills when you need them to.

That, in a nutshell, is the problem and the main point, of "Sicko". The United States healthcare system is based on a profit modem. Money and greed is what is preventing this country from giving its citizens free healthcare as the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to "buy" elected officials and send their lobbyist to do their bidding. It is not about all the other BS one hears concerning this debate. Free healthcare will not result in limited choices (anymore than what they are now) and people dying because of long wait lines. For years I used to hear Americans can't get medicine from Canada because it hasn't been approved by our government and could be dangerous. Of course the Canadians taking the same prescription drugs seem to be alive but who knows. It couldn't have anything to do with money, right?

So, how does Mr. Moore and "Sicko" prove their point? First Mr. Moore shows us some Americans without insurance and terrible accidents they have faced. One man cut off the tip of two of his fingers on a table saw blade. He was told by the hospital it would cost $12,000 to fix one finger (his ring finger) and $60,000 to fix the other (his index finger). The choice was his. He took the cheaper option. And then we hear horror stories from those with insurance. One woman was in a car accident that resulted in her becoming unconscious as an ambulance drove her to a hospital but her insurance company wouldn't pay for the it because it wasn't authorized by the woman, while she was unconscious.

Next, Mr. Moore speaks to people who used to work for insurance companies, who have since left, because they did not approve of how the industry was run and the lack of care. They explain insurance companies are not in the business of providing care. At one point it is explained if doctors deny treatment to patients they are rewarded with bonus. Why? No treatment means the insurance company doesn't have to pay anything. We discover all the loopholes companies use to their advantage to deny coverage (pre-existing conditions). This is then countered by Mr. Moore's visits to countries such as Canada, England, France and yes, Cuba. In each country Mr. Moore paints a picture of their system being better than the one in America. Everything is free. In England the people laugh at Mr. Moore when he keeps asking how much does everything cost. In France Mr. Moore speaks to Americans living abroad. They speak of five week paid vacations (standard) a 35 hour work week (standard. Although in the country's upcoming election a right-wing candidate wants to change this), a week off for your honeymoon (paid) and even doctors that make house calls.

Yes, there are manipulative moments. In one scene an insurance company employee is crying thinking about a couple she knew would be denied. As she is crying the camera moves in for a close-up of her face so we can get a good look at those tears. In another scene a mother is sitting in a playground speaking about her daughter, who died, because of lack of treatment. Why place this poor woman in a playground? There is a stunt where Mr. Moore takes some people to Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, telling the guards he brought some Americans who only want to same, universal coverage, as the terrorist.

But, none of this really matters because it doesn't change the underlying point, the healthcare system, even with the Affordable Care Act, is not good in this country. The ACA is a big wet kiss to the insurance companies since it mandates everyone must have insurance. The money and greed is still not out of the system. Meanwhile, the cost of prescription drugs continues to rise. And what can stop this from happening? Money must be taken out of the system. Mr. Moore even shows us the amount of money that has been donated to various politicians by these industries who continue to argue in the defense of the current system.

One of the best moments in the documentary is when Mr. Moore is in England and speaks to a former Labour party politician who explains the two ways in which a government can make its people feel oppressed. One is by fear (the examples of this are too numerous for me to mention) and debt. When are are in debt (student loans, hospital bills, credit cards) you feel helpless and demoralized. That will stop you from fighting back. It is still true today.

Michael Moore is without question a controversial figure and there will be "people"; Republicans, insurance company executives, greedy doctors...ect who will argue against everything in this movie and give us the same old lines over and over again. It is socialized medicine, a slippery slope to Communism / Socialism, long wait lines, death panels, lack of care, lack of doctors...ect, ect. They will use fear (see paragraph above) but that's all they have. Fear and check donations of the insurance companies. "Sicko" shows us there is a better option.

Nominated for an Oscar in the best documentary category, "Sicko" is one of Michael Moore's best documentaries.