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10th September
written by Tony

This is going to be a hot one. I’m not sure if there is any way to talk about this movie without starting some kind of fight with someone, so I won’t pretend that I can write some sort of neutral review and be done with it, or that this will be a review only. Despite the fact that this movie is over two years old, I think now was the perfect time for us to watch it, considering how hotly contested Obama’s healthcare reform is currently. I won’t lie, this is a depressing movie, for a lot of reasons. I’ll be the first to say that there are definitely times in his other movies when Michael Moore crosses the line from telling a story to flagrantly airing a personal bias. There have certainly been times in his previous movies where I agreed with his premise but disagreed with his tactics. However, this movie is largely free from those moments, though I will discuss some of them later. It’s remarkable to me how much disinformation, ignorance and plain old deception there is in our country regarding universal healthcare and public owned/run systems of healthcare. The sad thing is, a lot of it is coming from places it shouldn’t, mainly our news media. Did you know that the healthcare lobby spends 1.4 million dollars a day protecting their interests in congress (that’s half a billion dollars a year)? How about HMO donations? This link should clear that up. That’s just in our government system alone, that doesn’t even count people who are paid to write stories that cast public insurance and universal healthcare systems in a deceptively poor light or the money they throw at PR firms to do the same thing, but in a more subtle way. Oh, and these are recent facts, this information wasn’t even in the movie; this I saw the other day on an independent website. The essential premise of this movie is that our healthcare system is broken. People stitch their own wounds shut, choose which finger to save after an industrial accident because they can’t afford them all, get cancer and are dropped from their policy because they didn’t report a pre-existing condition (in one case the reason was an unreported yeast infection), and can’t get coverage for their conditions caused by their prolonged exposure to the hazardous materials at the site of the World Trade Center disaster — conditions they were exposed to as they attempted to find survivors immediately after the catastrophe. Moore then takes these people to Cuba where they receive top-notch free care and get the medication they need for pennies. The only problem I see here is that Cuba knew he was there, knew who he was and what he was doing. Of course the people he brought got great care from the best doctors, it’s a great way for Cuba to flip the US the bird. Regardless, like the rest of the movie, it was an eye-opening thing to witness. That’s about the gist of it. It would be easy for someone to watch this movie and say these are isolated incidents and are certainly not endemic of a flawed system. The problem there is, well, we all know this isn’t true. While the vast majority of us don’t attempt to fully utilize our insurance system (yet) those of us who do, find that it is not a system designed with our best interest in mind. Here’s a more personal example. Early in our relationship Steph had a cyst that was steadily enlarging and quite painful. She is (ostensibly) covered by her graduate program’s health insurance, insurance provided by a hospital. After an initial examination it was decided a biopsy was needed and the cyst was excised. All well and good, except that it cost us $800 because the cyst was benign. That’s right, it wasn’t going to kill her, so removing this painful cyst was deemed an unnecessary “cosmetic” procedure. Unfortunately, they had no way of knowing this until after the procedure. A total of 30 minutes of a doctor’s time ended up costing us nearly $1000 all told, and this was a minor procedure. You’ll excuse me if this isn’t the kind of thing that inspires confidence in the private sector insurance industry.

So we shift our gaze to the countries with some sort of universal or government run healthcare. The thing that Moore does here that most detractors do not do is this: research. He goes to the countries and talks to their citizens, doctors and politicians. He talks to US expats living in France and cites things like WHO statistics (we’re 37th from the top, if you’re interested, but more on this later). He talks to Canadians, in a hospital waiting room no less, about the quality and expedience of their care. He rightly points out that we are the only industrialized nation that does not subsidize health care in some form for the general population. Dating and eventually marrying a Canadian was eye opening, to say the least, as far as their universal care system is concerned. They spend less time waiting for appointments than we do, less time waiting after they schedule an appointment with a doctor, and less time waiting for procedures. They can call a nurse up any time and get free medical advice, over the phone, right then. And it is all free. In fact, Americans wait longer than nearly any other industrialized country for their appointments, and pay more for their treatment. The results of Moore’s research are overwhelming (at least in the framework of his movie): countries with universal health care have happier citizens, lower healthcare cost per capita (the US’s $7400 per year versus France’s roughly $300) and a standard of care that is roughly equivalent to our own. The issue at hand is what are we going to do about a morally bankrupt insurance system that bows to the interests of their shareholders before the interests of their clients? There are quite a few arguments floating around about why a universal healthcare system, or in the case of Obama’s reform, a public option is a bad idea. Many of them are specious at best, and most are just false. I’ve addressed a couple of the big ones already (wait times and quality of care) using this movie as my leading exemplar, but I’ll entertain the most prevalent arguments briefly before I wrap up. Let me just say that this movie was an eye-opener, and if you have any doubts about the arguments I have made or am about to make, you should consider watching it with an open mind. Why would I want the Government managing my healthcare? That would be a disaster! Not really, since they do a good job with our fire departments, police, postal service, Medicare and education system. The government could use roughly 10-20% more of the money paid in to the system to issue care (much like they do now with Medicare). Where does that extra 10-20% go now? To insurance company profits and shareholder payouts. See this source. Interestingly the point this video makes about fire insurance is based in historical truth. Consider this: when we visited Charleston we learned that the fire departments there used to be privatized. Every person had to have fire insurance and were only reimbursed for “in-network” fire calls. More than a few times people watched their homes burn to the ground as they tried to negotiate with a fire company that was not covered by their insurer. Sound absurd? Sound familiar? I don’t want the government between my doctor and me, telling me what to do! Well, that isn’t how it works anywhere else, and no one would stand for it here, nor is anyone proposing that. Besides, your insurance company is already doing that for you as it is. Your insurance company dictates the quality, amount and frequency of care you receive and its aim is profitability, not your recovery and continued health. Death councils! Suicide counseling! Reduced Medicare benefits! Free healthcare for illegal immigrants! No, no, no and false. The WHO statistics are misleading, we ARE NOT 37th in the world for healthcare! They are biased towards two things: amount paid by care recipients and life expectancy. Arguments have been made that life expectancy is not based on quality of care, but lifestyle choices, and also that indexing money paid by care recipients biases toward single payer (government run) systems. Sure, this is true. It’s also one of my favorite logical fallacies: the straw man. None of this has anything to do with the real issue: corrupt health insurance companies and denial of care. Guess what? As a nation of obese people we should be more concerned than ever about how we are going to pay for the inevitable care obesity necessitates. Especially with the knowledge that insurance companies deny people coverage because they are too thin, too fat, too old, too young, had an infection once, have a spouse with high blood pressure, you name it, they’ll try it to save a buck. Simply saying that we need to lose weight as a country won’t end cancer, or industrial accidents, or births or any of the other things that bring us to the hospital. I’ve got mine, why should I pay for other people? Because it’s inevitable that you will be on the losing end of the proposition one day. In a nation where 50% of bankruptcies are due to illness, this is everyone’s problem. Every time someone goes bankrupt that debt gets spread out among the rest of us. We are already paying for it, so why not make the money work for everyone? This will destroy the free market, end innovation and decrease everyone’s quality of care! Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Bhutan, Brunei, China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Pakistan, Thailand, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand all seem to be fine. Well, maybe some of them aren’t doing as well as we are, but they still find a way to pay for public health care, and that is the larger point. Well, now that I have gone way off the rails let’s circle around to what prompted this whole discussion in the first place: this movie. Steph and I were floored by this, not so much because it was surprising, but more because it was telling the story of the decline of America in big, bold letters. This is just one facet of how corporate greed is driving this country into the ground. Capitalism is all well and good, but there comes a point when squeezing the last dollar out of something means destroying it, and it is evident that there are enough rich corporations out there that seem to think they don’t need to worry about where our country is headed as long as they have their golden parachute. It’s comforting to know that there are some in our government who want to put some stewardship in place to ensure that corporate greed doesn’t kill us all, but it’s shameful that they have to fight against the ignorant assertion that limiting corporate “freedom” is somehow an attack on individual rights. Or that healthcare is somehow not something that a society should guarantee its citizens. It seems to me that many people have forgotten that there is really only one agency in this country that has the public’s best interests at heart (despite corruption, greed and inefficiency), and guess what? It isn’t Aetna or Kaiser Permenente. I'll close my grandstanding with a quote that I thought was a particularly nice summation of the issue:

Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish been caught, will we realize that we cannot eat money. -- Chief Seattle, Dwamish Native American

4 out of 5

Some light reading:


  1. 09/10/2009

    Fabulous review. Your research links are extremely helpful. Thanks for taking the time to do all this. (However, clearly you have never been to Cost Plus, where they sell chocolate dollars, so yes, you can eat money sometimes….)

  2. What an amazingly well written and thoughful post! I live in the UK and couldn’t imagine being without free healthcare. It isn’t perfect, but I don’t think any system is.

    I know this is a very touchy subject in the US at the moment, so I hope this comment section doesn’t turn nasty.

    P.S. LOL! Chocolate money!

  3. 09/10/2009

    Yeah, I hope everyone stays polite. There seems to be a tendency for people to use ad hominem attacks rather than sound reasoning, so hopefully that can be avoided here in favor of a good debate. I’m happy to hear all sides, but they have to be as willing to listen to what I have to say as I am to them. All the town hall meetings filled with shouting aren’t helping anyone solve anything.

    Maybe all money should be edible, that way when inflation hits you have other options…

  4. 09/10/2009

    For a country that is meant to be a shining beacon of hope to so many, I think it is so sad that this is a country that is more concerned about keeping a few very rich people, well, very rich, rather than the majority of its citizen safe, healthy, and alive. I should think that healthcare for all would be one of those self-evident truths (after all, does the Declaration not claim that one of an American’s unalienable rights is LIFE?), but apparently not. It really makes me sick (too bad, what with the whole living in the U.S.) to see people being forced to choose between fingers, or seeing their loved ones denied life-saving care simply because their insurance won’t cover it (or requires them to go to a different hospital). I hate that there are all those politicians who flagrantly lie and say Canadians travel to the U.S. for healthcare because we die waiting for needed operations, when I have never had that experience in my life, nor has anyone else I know. As Jackie said, universal healthcare isn’t perfect, but I value the comfort of knowing when I arrive at a Canadian hospital, I won’t be flatout denied care or dropped dazed and disoriented on a street corner following treatment because I can’t pay my bill. In the U.S. you know the resources are there and available but are refused to you, or the alternative is that you get the treatment and then have all your claims denied and have a ridiculous bill because the insurance company doesn’t actually want to LOSE money on actually paying for stuff. The fact is that medical procedures are grossly overpriced in this country such that the majority of people cannot afford them, so I ask you (well, not Tony, but anyone who boasts about all the medical technology Americans have due to the privatized industry): what is the point of having all this fancy and cutting-edge technology if no one can gain access to and benefit from it?

    I wish more Americans would realize that the system they are trying to preserve is just one in which they will ultimately be raked over the coals, with no one to tend to the burns in the end. How can such a fiercely patriotic people, who purportedly love their country so much, have so little care for their fellow compatriots and denizens, the very people who make the United States what it is?

  5. 09/20/2009

    My jaw literally dropped a few times while watching this movie myself. I’ve watched quite a few of my friends try out home remedies as they don’t have access to insurance. I hope in my lifetime that we actually see change and everyone has health insurance.

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