According to Michael Moore's movie Sicko, every facet of American health care sucks. Every American in his film has been screwed by the system. There is not one success story. There is not a single happy customer. In contrast, every single Canadian, British, French and Cuban patient is delighted with care that is not only free, but perfect in every way.
Sicko starts out with horror stories of people being denied coverage and losing health, body parts, and entire loved ones, because of our horrible, profit motivated health insurance. We're told time and time again that it is the profit motive that makes all health insurance companies suck and our entire health care system, the one that people around the world flock to, bad and nasty and evil.
Like all of Moore's films, Sicko is a collection of misleading cherry-picked facts. Facts that support his opinion (socialized medicine = good, capitalist medicine = evil) are presented, often out of context, while supporting facts that contradict his opinion are completely ignored.For instance, he's quick to point out that the World Health Organization ranks the US as 27th in health care. I wouldn't expect him to point out that the WHO has a long history of misrepresenting data (and sometimes outright lying about it) to support their agenda, but it would have been nice if he told us one of the major criteria for the ranking was how socialized the system was. The fact that US ranked #2 in citizen satisfaction (Germany was #1) isn't even hinted at.
After a few horror stories, he moves on to cheering Hillary's failed attempt to socialize American medicine. He didn't see fit to mention that her plan consisted of creating over a thousand different departments and sub departments and comities, proving that turning to the government to make things cheaper and simpler is like asking Rube Goldberg to light a candle.
And he ignored the very worst thing about Hillarycare: She would have made it a felony to go outside the system. If you were unhappy with government care and went to a doctor and offered to pay him directly for treatment, men with guns would come for both of you, haul you away, and toss you into some cold jail cell. This was beyond wrong – it was fascist and it was evil.
And ignored by Mr. Moore.
He gives up tongue kissing Hillary rather quickly, and then goes on to point out just how corrupt our politicians are, listing the payoffs dozens of elected vermin have received from health care lobbyists. This is important information. It shows that government weasels are for sale, and considering the return on investment, they are very modestly priced. And yet, somehow, turning our medical care over to these bargain priced sell outs is still a good idea.
Moore trashes the prescription bill that was passed a couple years ago. He's right; it deserved to be trashed. It deserved to be crumpled up into a ball and stomped on and set on fire and then tossed in the nearest dumpster. It actually raised the price of medicine for many people, and locked the government in to paying the highest possible prices for drugs. And this government who passed this rotten bill over the objections of the right and the left and the elderly, this government should take over health care.
The Free, Perfect Canadian system used to make private medicine nearly impossible. But Dr. Jacques Chaoulli, frustrated with providing government-quality care, started dealing with patents directly, providing services and being paid directly while fighting government laws designed to limit such activates. He went to law school (and flunked) and made it a personal mission to let patents make their own decisions, rather than be forced to depend on the government. He fought the issue up to the Quebec Supreme Court which, much to everyone's surprise, ruled in his favor.
This happened in 2005, and now there are private clinics springing up all over Quebec. They are thriving. But how could that be? If Canada's system is perfect and free, why would anyone pay to go elsewhere?
More importantly, why did Moore ignore this?
There is quite a bit of medical import and export traveling across the US and Canadian border, but it isn't all going in one direction. Americans go to Canada for the cheap drugs and sometimes, as shown in the film, to scam Canadian taxpayers into paying for their medical treatment. But there is a significant trade in the other direction too. Canadians, disgusted with long wait times and inferior care, frequently visit the US for faster, better care. They'd rather pay with their own money than wait until Canadian health care gets around to them. An honest documentary would have shown this as well. Sicko, of course, did not.
Take, for instance, the case of Lindsay McReath, a Canadian who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was told he'd have to wait at least three months for an MRI. (Canada has a quarter of the MRI machines per capita as the US.) He and his wife went to Buffalo NY, paid to get their MRI in one day, then returned home. Their Canadian doctors looked at the results, confirmed he had a brain tumor, and scheduled surgery. In four months. Disgusted, he returned to Buffalo and paid for the surgery himself. The entire process, from start to finish, took about four weeks. In Canada the average for that kind of medical problem is eight months, long enough for tumors to spread and people to die.
But Lindsay's story, and thousands of stories like it, is curiously absent from Moore's film.
The movie shifts to England, where, we're told, there are no waiting lines and again, everything is puppies and rainbows. We're shown stories of people who got free medical care and are now healthy and happy. We're not told that the UK cancels 100,000 surgeries a year because of lack of resources. And we're not told the story of Ron and Olive Roberts.
She is 79; he's 81. They were both suffering from macular degeneration, a disease that was robbing them of their eyesight, and can be prevented with a new, expensive drug, Lucentis, which hasn't been approved for widespread use by the NHS. Macular degeneration can cause blindness in as little as three months, and the NHS told them it would take at least that long to review their case. The only way to get the treatment in time was to go private, which would have cost them $14,000 dollars each. They could only afford it for one of them, and so had to decide which of them would go blind. They picked Ron, because Olive's sight was deteriorating faster.
It was only after the British press told their story, loudly and repeatedly, that the NHS backed down and agreed to treat Olive, which left the couple able to purchase Ron's treatment on their own.
Isn't it strange that the honorable Mr. Moore chose to ignore this widely publicized story?
Moore then whisks us away to France, a socialist paradise where everyone is happy and healthy and living off the government teat. We're told that not only is health care free, but when someone has a child they get a free government nanny to help them out, and then nearly free day care when they go back to work.
Moore was enthralled with the story of Alexi, who lived all his adult life in the US. When he was diagnosed with a tumor he moved back to France for their free health care. After three months of treatment he told his doctor he didn't feel like returning to work, and received a note that gave him a three month vacation. The government paid 65% of his salary and his employer kicked in the rest, getting nothing in return. We're then shown snapshots of him in the south of France, sunning himself on the beach and drinking beer with pretty girls. It didn't cost him a dime. Moore thought this was just wonderful. I nearly gagged in disgust. (Leeches have that effect on me.)
We're then treated to other wonders of the French system. Employers can only have their employees work 35 hours a week and must give them five weeks paid vacation and unlimited sick time. It's not surprising that France has a perpetual unemployment rate of 9-10%. Who wants to hire employees when getting any work out of them is so difficult? Since Moore is so heavily into numbers, how did this important one escape his eagle eye?
Next we visit a supposedly middle class family and see how well they live, despite the tax burden. ( France accompanies their high payroll taxes with a sales tax of nearly 20%.) Moore never mentions that they earn about three times the median salary of their fellow countrymen. It must have slipped his mind.
The movie climaxes with his childish trick of going to Guantanamo bay and yelling through a megaphone that he wants free health care for his boatload of sick people. When sirens come on he turns tail and goes to a Cuban hospital to prove that their health care is just wonderful. The implication is that he made a spontaneous decision to stop at Cuba and was treated at a typical Cuban hospital. In fact he applied for permission to go there before he even started filming, and the hospital that treated him was far from typical.
Rather than discuss the deep deception and dishonesty of this segment, I'll encourage you do to your own research. Simply Google "Cuban Hospitals." Please don't do this while eating lunch because some of the pages have pictures. I'm not joking.
After a picnic with Cuban firefighters he waxes rhapsodic about enemies helping each other, and then proceeds to tell us how wonderful he is:
“That’s when I heard that the man who runs the biggest anti Michael Moore web site on the internet was going to have to shut it down. He could no longer afford to keep it up because his wife was ill and they couldn't afford to pay for her health insurance. He was faced with a choice of either keep attacking me or pay for his wife’s health. Fortunately, he chose is wife. But something seemed wrong about being forced into such a decision. Why, in a free country, shouldn't he be able to have health insurance, and exercise his first amendment right to run me into the ground? So I wrote a check for the twelve thousand dollars he needed to keep his wife insured and in treatment and sent it to him anonymously. His wife got better and his web site is still going strong.”
“I sent it to him anonymously” is an interesting sentence. It can be true right up to the moment you say it out loud - then it becomes a lie. Moore didn't’t make an anonymous contribution - he made an unidentified one, while he was filming his movie. It’s fair to assume he did it with the full intention of bragging about it in a futile attempt to make himself look good.
If it had been truly anonymous, it would have been a fine and noble thing. But broadcasting it to the entire world makes him a first class schmuck.
Sicko got me thinking about my own experience with American medicine and health insurance. Fifteen years ago I broke my leg badly enough to require surgery, and because it happened close to a weekend I was in the hospital for five days. The care was excellent, the surgery was successful, and during my stay I got to watch a Marx Brothers double feature while whacked out on morphine. My share of the bill was about $250.
Last year my wife had major surgery. There was virtually no wait time, the surgery was successful, and her care was superb. Our out of pocket expenses were about $1000. A week later we spent more than that getting a car repaired.
Thinking about my own experiences made me realize how easy it would be to mimic Moore's tactics and style yet come to an entirely different conclusion. We could gather a dozen American medicine success stories and follow them with a dozen horror stories about socialized medicine. Using the identical structure and methods of Sicko we could "prove" that American heath care was prefect and flawless in every way and socialized medicine was a horrible death trap.
The only downside is that it would just as dishonest and disgusting as Mr. Moore. And that's pretty disgustingly dishonest.
There are plenty of problems with US health care. Most of them are caused by the US legal system, so our first step should be to getting government out of the medical profession as much as possible. Then we can address the remaining problems by trying things, seeing if they work, making adjustments, and moving on.
History has proven, over and over again, the fastest and most efficient way to improve any goods or services is with a free market. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not pretty, but it works better than anything else. In contrast the worst way to do just about anything is to hand it over the government. All market place corrections are removed so everything gets slower and more expensive while the quality drops.
As always, Moore does a halfway decent job of showing some of the problem. As always, his solution is stupid, ridiculous and would only make things much much worse.
A video of Lindsay McReath's story.
Private clinics in Candia.
Dr. Jacques Chaoulli
This article is available as a podcast
© 2007 Dave Hitt