Near the end of Sicko, his rambling harangue against the American health-care industry, Michael Moore relates how a guy named Jim Kenefick had to unplug his anti-Moore Web site Moorewatch.com in order to pay his wife’s medical expenses. When Moore learned of this, he “anonymously” sent his tormentor $12,000 to foot the bill. What a great guy, that Michael Moore. The only cost to Kenefick was serving as a cheap prop in Moore’s polemic.
VIDEO: The trailer for Sicko
I suspect that Moore had equally altruistic motives in presenting the case studies of victims of HMOs, hospitals, and drug companies in his movie. This doesn’t alter the validity or the poignance of these tales of woe. But the suspicion that he’s using these unfortunates as pawns in his argument does tarnish the cause. So too do his one-sided point of view, his staged manipulations, his glaring omissions, and his joky inclusions of archival footage.
He also starts out with a few red herrings. A guy with two severed digits can afford to reattach only one. A once-prosperous middle-aged couple are forced to move in with their son after chronic illness and ruthless insurers put them on the street. There’s added irony: the son has to leave home to earn money — as a civilian contractor in Iraq.
But the movie isn’t about them, Moore tells us. They are people who don’t have insurance. The movie is about the lucky ones who do. Talk about being screwed. Some stories — a woman transported unconscious from the scene of an accident had to pay for the ambulance because she hadn’t first gotten authorization from her insurer — are ruefully funny. Other tales evoke pity and wrath, especially those in which innocent people die because of greed and bureaucracy. As the repentant former HMO employees interviewed by Moore confess, their organizations don’t care about making people well, only about making money.
Still not convinced? Moore tours the health-care systems of countries like Britain, France, and Cuba, where people pay nothing for high-quality care, doctors are satisfied with what they make, and nobody pays too much in taxes. Like, how much? No figures are mentioned. I’d be curious to see what kind of change the relatively well-off Moore might have to cough up under these systems.
In general, of course, he’s right: the US system sucks, going all the way back to the Nixon White House — in one of the film’s creepier revelations, Moore airs a tape in which RMN authorizes the first HMO. Few honest persons would argue otherwise; many who see this movie will have their own horror stories to tell, unless they’re among the elected officials who receive hefty campaign donations from medical-industry lobbyists. (In one of the film’s more amusing bits, we see congressmen stride on screen smiling and bearing digital price tags showing their take. They’re followed by President Bush, with the biggest haul of all.)