I’ve been blessed — as an agnostic, I don’t use that word lightly — with good health all my life. I come from a sturdy line of people who generally live into their ninth decade, with no chronic diseases other than those time carries in its reeking baggage. My medical-history interviews are a chorus of no, no, no. Lucky me.
Lately it has occurred to me I won’t live forever, and may in fact see my lucky streak end with the usual degradations of cancer or heart disease or stroke or multiple blunt-force trauma in a bicycle accident. I’ve always had health insurance through my/our employers, but lately those employers aren’t looking so healthy themselves, so it’s something I’ve been thinking about more. So you might say I was ready for “Sicko,” and when someone offered me a screener copy, of course I said yes.Everything you’ve already read about the movie is true, so we don’t need to go into greater depth here: Yes, it’s entertaining propaganda. Yes, the Cuba sequences were ridiculous. Yes, Michael Moore is still fat. But hey, guess what else: It’s also a pretty excellent movie. Moore is at his most self-effacing and crafty, deliberately dialing down the childishness in favor of sincerity.
By concentrating not on the uninsured, but the badly insured, he makes it hard to distance yourself from the problem. If 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance, that means 250 million have at least something standing between them and a $250,000 hospital bill, and “Sicko” only confirms what many of us long suspected: There but for the grace of God, etc.There’s the woman whose ambulance ride after a car accident was denied, because it wasn’t pre-approved. The woman whose husband was denied a bone-marrow transplant, and died. (And she worked at a hospital!) And there’s the woman who was denied cervical-cancer treatment, because she was too young to get cervical cancer, in her insurer’s opinion.
You can’t help but wonder how long before something like this happens to you. This isn’t journalism; it’s not even-handed. When he goes to France, and England, and Canada, and looks at the happy people there, we know there are others who aren’t. Mention universal health care in this country, and within seconds someone will bring up the eight-month waiting list for a hernia repair in the UK, or whatever. No one does this in “Sicko,” granted.But here’s something I don’t notice happening in Canada, either: People saying, “Let’s dump our system and adopt that of the United States, because that’s one that works like a Swiss watch.”
No one’s saying the National Health Service is a bowl of cherries, but at least after waiting your eight months or whatever, you can walk out of the hospital with the shirt on your back. Nothing is really free, and when Moore keeps calling government-subsidized care by that name you want to correct him — they’re all paying one way or another. But maybe this is what you can afford when you’re not flushing billions down the Pentagon’s toilets, too.
I know I quote Roy too often here, but I think he got to the heart of it with his post on the film, a few weeks ago:
But there aren’t a lot of “gotcha” ambush moments. Instead, halfway through the film Moore seems to abandon the litany of despair to go to other countries where we meet people who are well-served by their systems, because their governments acknowledge that health care is a human right. And hearing their stories, and especially observing their lives outside the hospitals and clinics, we come to realize that health care is only part of the difference. What’s remarkable (and sometimes infuriating) about these subjects’ attitudes is that they take their superior care for granted. They expect more from their governments than we do — and, the film implies, that’s why they have it and we don’t. Even hostile reviewers seem to pick up on this. The claim by National Review’s Rich Lowry that Moore is “the Riefenstahl of socialism” is hysterical but telling. Lowry is acknowledging the power of SiCKO’s real story — the story of a civilized world that, in some important ways, has left America behind, not by dint of socialism but by a different understanding of what the old Labourite Tony Benn calls by its right name: democracy.
We look, after Moore’s propaganda film, like people who can’t quite let go of the other propaganda we’ve had sowed in our brains since birth: That the government can’t do anything right, and the market does everything better. Ask yourself if that’s true the next time you find your COBRA running out.