Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ Mobilizes Public Discontent Over U.S. Health Care, Sparks New Debate

Michael Moore's new movie, Sicko, he says, is "a comedy about 45 million people with no health care in the richest country on Earth." He has created a YouTube page for people to post their videos and tell their stories about their experiences with the health care system. The movie hasn't even been released yet, and there are already nearly 2000 text responses and quite a number of videos posted. p>Google's aggregated movie review system gives Michael Moore's "Sicko" 4.5 out of 5 possible stars. Godfrey Cheshire of the NC Independent Weekly calls "Sicko" "Moore's Most Revolutionary, and Best Film To Date." USA TODAY's editorial page says the movie may do for health care reform what Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth" did for global warming — that is, create a consensus that former skeptics (including President Bush) — no longer deny, and truly influence policy.

Not surprisingly, Dr. David Gratzer on The Wall Street Journal editorial page attacks one of the movie's premises that the national health care systems of Canada and England are better, asserting that "in Canada, dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week. Humans can wait two to three years." He asserts that Canada and the U.K. are adopting market reforms to supplement national health care.

That may be. But he sets up a straw man in claiming that "Sicko" is mainly a movie trying to sell Canadian-style national health care to U.S. audiences. The movie mostly diagnoses the problems of the current profit-based U.S. health care system, problems that are undeniable. Among the startling statistics Moore offers: about 18,000 people die each year because they lack health insurance. His source for this statistic is a 193-page 2002 Institute of Medicine report, "Care Without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late."

Dr. Gratzer is correct that there will not any time soon be the political will in the U.S. to outlaw private health insurance. But offering more public policy options — not leaving health care to the marketplace — is definitely likely, especially if "Sicko" catches fire and there's a progressive political mandate in November 2008.

Paul Krugman of The New York Times, for example, had high praise for the health care proposal of Senator John Edwards that gives consumers choice, preserves private health insurance, but "may evolve toward a single-payer approach if individuals and businesses prefer the public plan.” Krugman says Edwards' plan is superior to Barack Obama's plan, which really doesn't amount to universal coverage. He points out that Hillary Clinton has proposed "worthy" health care cost containment, but has yet to propose in detail a universal health plan.

Shrewdly, Karen Ignagni, CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, the powerful trade association for private health insurance plans, is using buzz over the movie to defend the current system against "government takeover" and to slickly propose to "expand access to health insurance coverage" without running private insurers out of business. My guess is that if real health care reform ever passes, AHIP and the private insurers will survive. 

Drill Deeper:

·  Sicko movie page.

·  YouTube page for Sicko comments.Google aggregated movie review page for "Sicko"

·  Google aggregated news coverage of "Sicko"

·  Godfrey Cheshire's review

·  USA TODAY's editorial page discussion of "Sicko"

·  Dr. David Gratzer on The Wall Street Journal editorial page attacking "Sicko"

·  Paul Krugman's New York Times column with high praise for John Edwards' health care plan


Immigration ‘Reform’: Dead?

It looks like immigration "reform" is dead in this session of Congress, according to the Associated Press. Only 45 votes out of a needed 60 in the Senate could be rounded up to end debate and schedule a final vote on the supposed "grand compromise" between President Bush and Senate leaders.

It has unraveled like a cheap piece of clothing. "You start pulling (a loose thread) and the sleeve comes off," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-S.D.) observed to The Washington Post.

To some immigrant advocates, this is a relief. The bill was not even the proverbial half a loaf of bread for immigrants — more like, "two slabs of bread and a whack on the head," if that.

A consensus on what to do has not developed in either political party — among liberals or conservatives, business, labor, or in the immigrant community. They all remain deeply divided. In the base of the Republican Party, many oppose "amnesty" — letting the 12 million undocumented immigrants here now pay fines, back taxes, and win a path to citizenship, albeit a lengthy one. But as Senator John McCain points out, the status quo is "silent amnesty." To deport 12 million people is unfeasible and impractical.

In the base of the Democratic Party, many oppose guest worker programs that, they believe, drive down wages for American citizens and leave temporary or guest workers with few rights, but as the San Francisco Chronicle has pointed out, "Guest workers have a long history in U.S.: Temporary workers become source of permanent labor force." It is politically unfeasible and impractical to eliminate all guest worker programs in favor of a path to citizenship for all of these workers. A Washington Post piece, "Joined at the Claw: Fates of Maryland Crabbers, Guest Workers Intertwined" described how seasonal workers keep a Maryland crab farmer in business, and how difficult the life is for the seasonal workers. "Be Our Guest," an editorial in the generally liberal New Yorker advocates in favor of guest worker programs.

And yet the Los Angeles Times makes legitimate points in its editorial, "A Raw Deal for Guest Workers: Political Pressures Have Produced a Proposed Guest Worker Program that is Neither Practical Nor Fair." And the Associated Press, focusing on farm workers in Florida, points out that "Temporary Farm Workers Feel Cheated By Contractors Under Guest Worker Program."


Not just a moment

HKonJHK on J – “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” in Raleigh last weekend – sparked an awesome online display of videos and photos, links to news coverage and to the websites of the more than 60 coalition partners who participated. Let’s keep the momentum going, and make sure this was not just a moment, but is truly a movement to change North Carolina for the better. Connect online, peruse this interactive site, introduce yourself, add your voice, your reflections on last weekend’s event, or what it portends for the future.

Go to www.hkonj.com