'SiCKO' Indicts America's Health Care Industry
I am not in the habit of doing movie reviews. But I recommend everyone see Michael Moore's documentary "SiCKO" about our health care system, which leaves 45 million Americans uninsured including nine million children. The film shows how powerful corporate interests guided by profits rather than preventing and curing health problems victimize sick people and taxpayers.
"SiCKO" puts human faces on our national health care crisis. A grieving mother whose two-year-old daughter had a high fever and was gripped by a seizure and rushed to the nearest hospital was turned away because the hospital wasn't in her HMO's network. She was told the child had to be moved and that any care provided by the receiving hospital would not be covered. Leaving that hospital denied the child vital emergency care. She slipped into a coma and died on the way to the HMO facility.
There's the middle-age couple, both professionals with health insurance, who were bankrupted when their insurance company stopped providing health coverage after her bout with cancer and his heart attacks. They were forced to sell their home and move into their daughter's storage room.
We see a 22-year-old single mother and cancer survivor from Michigan who drives to Canada and poses as the common law wife of a friend to get free clinical care in that country. And we experience disoriented, indigent patients pushed out of hospitals, put in taxis and dumped, still in their clinical gowns, on the streets of Los Angeles' Skid Row.
Moore exposes how far some insurance companies go to avoid paying for medical costs and the voluminous list of ailments insurance companies call "pre-existing conditions" to deny treatment, cancel policies or demand repayment for already received medical services.
He presents doctors and other employees of insurance companies and HMOs promoted and given bonuses based on the number of medical procedures denied sick people. In one case, a young woman with cancer was denied medical treatment because she once had a yeast infection, which the company claimed was a pre-existing condition.
Moore takes us to Britain and France, which have had universal health care since the 1940s. No child or adult would be denied care in those countries because they had a pre-existing condition or because necessary care was "too expensive." When he asks patients how much they are being charged for the care they receive, they laugh and say there is no charge because everybody is included in the National Health Service.
France, in addition to universal health care, maintains a 24-hour medical care service staffed by doctors who make house calls. When is the last time any of us had a doctor come to our home?
"SiCKO" explores some of the myths about health care in other industrialized democracies including supposed long waits for care and underpaid doctors.
One of the most dramatic segments of the film involves three first responders to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center who are suffering from severe respiratory diseases and a host of other ailments from exposure to dust and debris at Ground Zero. Moore took them to the U.S. military base at Guant"namo Bay, Cuba, to get the same free, top-notch health care that the U.S. military claims it is providing to "enemy combatants."
After he failed to enter the base, he took them to a Havana hospital where they received extensive free diagnostic tests and treatment and medication for which they paid nominal sums. In none of the countries Moore visited are children denied care or provided a lesser standard of care for lack of health insurance or money, as is too often the case in the United States.
I hope "SiCKO" pricks our consciences and catalyzes a robust national debate about our broken health care system. The film asks timely questions our political leaders need to answer. If other countries can guarantee health care to all of their citizens, why can't ours? If Canada, European nations and Cuba can take the profit motive out of caring for people, why can't we?
As we search for the answers to these questions, we should start with our children right now as the State Children's Health Insurance Program comes up for renewal before Sept. 30. Why are there nine million uninsured children in America? And why are many of our leaders claiming we can't afford to cover them all? We need to find common ground with all Americans of good will to address the nation's health care crisis regardless of one's political affiliation. It's a matter of life, death and health.
Tell Congress and the White House to ensure health coverage for all children by calling 1-800-861-5343 or visiting www.childrensdefense.org/.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund and its Action Council whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.