Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Oprah previews Michael Moore's "Sicko"


Oprah Winfrey today hosted controversial filmmaker Michael Moore, who previewed some footage from his new documentary “Sicko” about the broken American health care financing system. The film has been shown in Cannes, and is due to open June 29, 2007. The distributors are The Weinstein Company, which split off from Miramax in 2006, and Lions Gate. (Disney-owned Miramax had refused to distribute “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which was picked up by Lions Gate in 2005). It was the highest grossing documentary of all time.

Moore showed at least three major segments from his film. In the first, he tells us this film is for the people who have “health insurance”, not for the millions of uninsured. He presents short interview clips of patients who were denied life-saving procedures for various reasons, like pre-existing conditions or “lack of medical necessity.”

Nevertheless, about 43.6 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance, according to CDC figures. The Census Bureau reports that as 44.8 million. Lack of health insurance coverage leads to 18,000 premature deaths a year. Many of these arguably would not happen in a system with effective universal coverage, as in Canada, but this is debatable. If our culture is dedicated to respect or reverence for human life for its own sake, this becomes a moral issue comparable to abortion.

In the clip, he shows a health care company executive talking to Congress, and the woman testifies that her income shot up into six figures after she learned how to deny claims, even though she was a physician who had presumably taken the Hippocratic Oath. She also told Congress that employees of health insurance companies were told not to talk to the media or especially to Michael Moore's people (there was even a joke about the Detroit Tigers and Lions to get attention away from their practices.) What happens if the employees simply blog about these claims-denying practices at home? (That gets interesting: there may be a first amendment issue, but are unethical practices a legally protected trade secret?) Moore goes on to tell Oprah that this is “the problem”: we accept that police and fire services, and public education, should be provided from public funds without a profit motive, but we don’t accept that idea for life-saving health care. Moore even admitted that private insurance companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to deny all possible claims. This problem was documented in John Grisham's novel Rainmaker, which became a movie with Matt Damon and Danny De Vito in 1997 ("everybody hates the insurance company"). Moore was critical of our hyper-individualism, our idea "I took care of myself, so you do the same," and he maintains that for some things we need to be willing to row in the same boat and sink or swim together. (Mother Jones had an article "Hyper-individualism v. Solidarity" by Bill McKibben in June 2004, discussion here.)

He then shows a clip of Guantanamo, where prisoners are getting top-flight medical care. At the same time, volunteers who had helped clean up the World Trade Center site after 9/11 could not get the government to pay for their respiratory disorders. A few of these made the trip with Moore and apparently wound up in Cuba, where they got some medical attention on the film.

I have heard by the grapevine that church groups that have sent volunteers (including, often enough, high school kids) to New Orleans to help with the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina have not been allowed inside the flooded homes to work on them because of mold, which raises health and liability lists. The volunteers have often done only street and debris cleanup. Apparently, this development tracks the experience where volunteers on the 9/11 site have had severe health consequences that could not be adequately treated/

Moore is being investigated by the government, which claims that he traveled to Cuba illegally, which he claims he did not. Guantanamo is legally US soil, and the contact of the other volunteers with Cuba was somehow incidental. The government obviously has an incentive to "cover up" the problems he wants to expose.

The link for Oprah’s show today is here:

Update: Sunday June 10

Updates:

On Monday, June 18, ABC "Good Morning America" had attorney/host Chris Cuomo present a story about rescission of individual policies for trivial omissions concerning pre-existing conditions. The specific case concerned a girl with an eye tumor, needing surgery, and Blue Cross of California had threatened a rescission investigation for failure to disclose "headaches." After media pressure, Blue Cross backed down. Related link is here.

On Tuesday June 19 ABC's "The View" presented Michael Moore again, and showed a segment (of "Sicko") where an uninsured man who has lost two fingers to a buzz saw is faced with a Hobson's choice. Moore talked about the free health care and day care in Europe, and did not explain how the political problems in providing them (at everyone's expense, regardless of use) were surmounted.

Update: 6/30/2007 CNN

On Saturday June 30 CNN Larry King Live presented Michael Moore, who this time answered questions about waiting periods in Canada. He said that for elective surgery it is about four weeks, but that care is triaged. Emergency surgery does not wait. He did not discuss whether there are age limits, but presumably risky surgery is not attempted if there is not an expectation of medical benefit. Conservative courses claim that Canadian medicine is less enterprising and has less incentive to try new therapies (like the plate I got in 1998 in Minnestoa for my acetabular fracture). Moore also said he gets very good insurance through his guild (the Directors' Union), and he buys the best possible health insurance for his own employees, without waiting periods. He also mentioned that the HMO started with Nixon, and that one of the tapes from 1971 with Ehrlichman shows that Nixon nodded on the idea that HMO's could make more money by providing less care.

Coordinate movie review (June 29) here.



Around June 9, CNN presented a few clips from Morgan Spurlock's film "Chalk" about the challenge that teachers face today.

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