Movie Review: Sicko by Michael Moore

Michael Moore's Sicko documentary
Image courtesy Lion's Gate

Sicko is a documentary film from filmmaker Michael Moore, who achieved notoriety (and, some may say, infamy) for his films Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine. In Sicko, Moore examines the American healthcare system and compares it to other countries.

It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Moore's work that he takes a very strong, politically liberal position on the issue of healthcare, favoring socialized, universal healthcare over the system we have currently in place.

However, even if you disagree with Moore, this film is worth watching for its chilling and disturbingly accurate portrayal of the failings of healthcare in America. Perhaps Canada, Great Britain, France, and Cuba don't have all the answers, but in examining the way they do things, Moore forces us to look in the mirror and seriously question the way we take care of our own citizens.

The Good

Moore wisely stays behind the camera and lets real Americans tell the story of our broken healthcare system. You may want to bring your tissues for some of these stories:

  • Financially crippled by co-pays and deductibles, one couple must sell their family home and move into their daughter's basement.
  • Another woman has her health insurance retroactively canceled because she forgot to disclose on her application that she had years ago suffered from a common yeast infection which was completely resolved with a prescription cream.
  • Doctors believe a man suffering from kidney cancer could be saved with a bone marrow transplant procedure, which is denied by his insurer. His family cannot afford the procedure out-of-pocket, so he forgoes care and dies shortly thereafter, leaving behind his wife and young son.
  • A young mother calls 911 and has the ambulance rush her feverish 18-month-old daughter to the nearest emergency room, only to be denied care because it was a non-network hospital. By the time the insurance issue was straightened out, it was too late to save her daughter's life.
  • A sick and disoriented woman is discharged from a hospital and dumped in front of a homeless shelter. She is wearing nothing but a hospital gown and wanders aimlessly up and down the street until someone from the shelter sees her and approaches her to assist. It turns out that the hospital had discharged her because her insurance benefits had run out.

Ex-insurance company employees assure us that these horror stories really do happen, and that insurers are most decidedly for-profit operations with the goal of minimizing claims payouts. Patients are denied coverage for having any one of a very long list of pre-existing conditions. This list is believed to include thousands of common medical conditions, including asthma and diabetes. Even those who are able to obtain coverage cannot rest easy, as insurance company employees who can find reasons to deny claims are richly rewarded for their creativity.

Moore compares our broken healthcare system with the nationalized health coverage systems in several other countries.

This coverage is not exactly free –- citizens are heavily taxed to cover the health costs –- but patients owe no money at the time of service. Moore visited four countries -– Canada, Great Britain, France, and Cuba -– and interviewed several people in each country who were extremely happy with their healthcare systems. Americans tend to envision substandard care and long waiting periods when they think of socialized medicine, but there are at least some people who receive high quality, timely care under this type of system.

The Bad

Perhaps it is just my American bias against socialized medicine, but I was suspicious of Moore's cheery and overwhelmingly positive presentation of healthcare in other countries. He relies on anecdotal evidence to prove that emergency waiting rooms in other countries are particularly efficient, and that both doctors and patients alike are satisfied that socialized medicine a superior healthcare system. However, some issues are glossed over or not addressed at all. For example, how much are citizens in these countries taxed for their healthcare? Is it true that there are long waiting lists for certain medical procedures, such as surgery or cancer treatments (as opposed to waiting times for emergency care)? If Canada's system is vastly superior to ours, why has it been documented that their citizens seek care in the U.S.?

Although there are surely advantages to socialized medicine, there are disadvantages as well, and Moore does not give equal time to the disadvantages or fairly present the bad along with the good. He views socialized medicine through rose-colored glasses, which undermines his credibility throughout the film.

The Bottom Line

Sicko is an important, thought-provoking documentary which I highly recommend. Moore is rightly outraged at our broken healthcare system and does a good job of convincing the viewer that he or she should be as well. Something must be done to fix U.S. healthcare, and Moore's film is a compelling call to action. Just keep in mind that healthcare systems in other countries have problems, too. Perhaps this film will inspire discussion and help us to reach our own unique solution.

Guide Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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