SICKO Gets 3.5 Stars - Review #1

As Michael Moore points out in SICKO, his new political film targeting the health insurance industry, "this movie is not about those 46 million Americans who don't have health insurance, it is about the 250 million of us who do." Sicko creates a non-partisan call for unity. He asks us to consider what it can mean to get sick or injured, or to require managed care in the U.S., sparking a solidarity among Americans that demands change. Whether you love or hate Moore, he makes the valid point in SICKO that thousands of Americans die each year when their insurance coverage is denied, when they are refused medical care, and when the cost of pharmaceuticals exceeds what they can afford to pay. Within weeks of soliciting US healthcare nightmare stories via his website, Moore received over 25,000 responses and pulled the most dramatic and touching stories to evoke disappointment and outrage in his audiences.  [Have you seen the film?  What did you think?  Click here to give us your feedback.] Stating, "you can judge a country by how it treats its worst off," Moore offers insight into alternative systems, the socialized medicine and universal healthcare in Canada, France, England, and even Cuba. He criticizes the way in which the US treats not only the poorest, but its middle class, as he tells the tale of several 9/11 rescue workers who became ill after being exposed to environmental contaminants at Ground Zero. Moore alleges that they cannot receive proper coverage and healthcare in this country. To make the point, Moore visits Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in a small boat with the rescue workers, shouting "I have 9/11 rescue workers here. They are in need of medical care"¦The same kind your prisoners are receiving!" It's the most depressing scene in the movie. Moore intertwines stories of American families affected by the denial of health insurance coverage with sobbing physicians, health insurance salesmen and insurance claims reviewers confessing that they'd denied necessary coverage to avoid financial loss. The result transcends any political party lines, emphasizing the fact that change is imminent and necessary. Linda Peeno, of HMO's Humana makes a touching confession to the Senate that will hit home with those who may still think that "the doctor knows best." As Humana's medical claims reviewer, she confesses that she may have been partly responsible for the illness or death of fellow citizens to whom she denied coverage, and chillingly details that bonuses and raises were distributed to doctors based upon how many denials were administered for coverage, surgeries, and treatments. Moore does not target the big players of major pharmaceutical industries much but does take a jab at Billy Tauzin, Republican Congressman from Louisiana, who shepherded the Medicare bill through, and, Moore says, was rewarded through his appointment of PhRMA's chief executive officer. Searching for solutions and possible answers, Moore visits hospitals and pharmacies around the world and makes some of us want to pick up and move abroad. Socialized medicine and universal healthcare, while highly criticized in the U.S. is portrayed as a dream come true in France, England, Cuba an Canada. Moore meets with nationals who boast of free healthcare and extremely low pharmaceutical prices (What they actually say is "Yes, of course our healthcare is free"¦this isn't America" and who never dream of questioning "Is this hospital in my network?" when in need of urgent care). While visiting England, Moore searches endlessly for a Billing Department at a local hospital because he can't believe that an entire country can function with socialized medicine. After an endless search he finds a "Cashier." The audience sighs with relief that there can't possibly be 100% free healthcare elsewhere while doctors in America must deny care to ill patients. Moore then discovers that the Cashier's sole function is to distribute cash, train cards, etc. to discharged patients and hospital visitors to ensure they are able to make it home safely or to reimburse their travel to the hospital Continuing his pilgrimage, Moore visits a London pharmacy where we learn that all pharmaceuticals are free for those over age 60, causing senior audience members seated near me to gasp aloud. No doubt they recalled and related to Moore's earlier montage of Frank, a 79-year old custodian, who hauls garbage seven days a week in order to financially support both his and his wife's medications. "If there are golden years"¦I can't find them," Frank reflects as he cleans a supermarket toilet. We also learn in the London pharmacy that some of the most expensive drugs in the US ranging in the hundreds of dollars can be purchased in London for 6.95 pound ($10 equivalent) for unlimited quantities. Moore jokes to the pharmacist when glancing around the pharmacy seeing nothing but medication, "Where's the detergent?" The stern pharmacist answers "I haven't been in training this many years to sell detergent." why are so many pharmacies in the U.S. tucked away in the back of a mega supermarket? This dichotomy continues as Moore travels the world and suggests that universal healthcare, although a nightmare for the American health insurance industry, may be the answer. I recommend that you see this film. Whatever you may think of universal or managed health care, the heartbreaking stories of fellow citizens dying or destitute from refused care are real, and if nothing else, Sicko begs for reform and weave a haunting story. And for the pharmaceutical professional, SICKO questions why you work so hard to save lives, when many people may not even be given the chance to be saved.  Michele Vaccarello