Thursday, June 21, 2007

Michael Moore's "Sicko" Opens Soon, Frames Upcoming Elections!

Michael Moore's latest film, "Sicko," is a scathing indictment of the costly and ineffective American healthcare system. It is also, by most accounts, his best, most sophisticated film.

Just as Fahrenheit 9/11 used humor and pathos to raise critical questions about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, "Sicko" promises to do the same for the U.S. system of private medical insurance.

In the film Moore asks how can the richest country in the world allow 45 million of its citizens to go without healthcare? And why does our healthcare system perform so poorly (it is ranked 37th just ahead of Slovenia) when we spend more money (16% of our total GDP) on healthcare than any nation on earth?

The film critic, A O Scott, writes in a very favorable review in the New York Times (May 22, 2007) that "Sicko:”

"...contends that the American system of private medical insurance is a disaster, and that a state-run system, such as exists nearly everywhere else in the industrialized world, would be better. This argument is illustrated with anecdotes and statistics — terrible stories about Americans denied medical care or forced into bankruptcy to pay for it; grim actuarial data about life expectancy and infant mortality; damning tallies of dollars donated to political campaigns — but it is grounded in a basic philosophical assumption about the proper relationship between a government and its citizens.

Mr. Moore has ...never before made a film that stated his bedrock ideological principles so clearly and accessibly. His earlier films have been morality tales, populated by victims and villains, with himself as the dogged go-between, nodding in sympathy with the downtrodden and then marching off to beard the bad guys in their dens of power and privilege. This method can pay off in prankish comedy or emotional intensity — like any showman, Mr. Moore wants you to laugh and cry — but it can also feel manipulative and simplistic.

In “Sicko,” however, he refrains from hunting down the C.E.O.’s of insurance companies, or from hinting at dark conspiracies against the sick. Concentrating on Americans who have insurance (after a witty, troubling acknowledgment of the millions who don’t), Mr. Moore talks to people who have been ensnared, sometimes fatally, in a for-profit bureaucracy and also to people who have made their livings within the system. The testimony is poignant and also infuriating, and none of it is likely to be surprising to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who has tried to see an out-of-plan specialist or dispute a payment.

If you listen to what the leaders of both political parties are saying, it seems unlikely that the diagnosis offered by “Sicko” will be contested. I haven’t heard many speeches lately boasting about how well our health care system works. In this sense “Sicko” is the least controversial and most broadly appealing of Mr. Moore’s movies. (It is also, perhaps improbably, the funniest and the most tightly edited.) The argument it inspires will mainly be about the nature of the cure, and it is here that Mr. Moore’s contribution will be most provocative and also, therefore, most useful.

“Sicko” is not a fine-grained analysis of policy alternatives... This film presents, instead, a simple compare-and-contrast exercise. Here is our way, and here is another way, variously applied in Canada, France, Britain and yes, Cuba. The salient difference is that, in those countries, where much of the second half of “Sicko” takes place, the state provides free medical care.

With evident glee (and a bit of theatrical faux-naïveté) Mr. Moore sets out to challenge some widely held American notions about socialized medicine. He finds that British doctors are happy and well paid, that Canadians don’t have to wait very long in emergency rooms, and that the French are not taxed into penury...

Yes, the utopian picture of France in “Sicko” may be overstated, but show me the filmmaker — especially a two-time Cannes prizewinner — who isn’t a Francophile of one kind or another. Mr. Moore’s funny valentine to a country where the government will send someone to a new mother’s house to do laundry and make carrot soup turns out to be as central to his purpose as his chat with Tony Benn, an old lion of Old Labor in Britain. Mr. Benn reads from a pamphlet announcing the creation of the British National Health Service in 1948, and explains it not as an instance of state paternalism but as a triumph of democracy.

More precisely, of social democracy, a phrase that has long seemed foreign to the American political lexicon... Mr. Moore is less interested in tracing the history of American exceptionalism than in opposing it. He wants us to be more like everybody else. When he plaintively asks, “Who are we?,” he is not really wondering why our traditions of neighborliness and generosity have not found political expression in an expansive system of social welfare. He is insisting that such a system should exist, and also, rather ingeniously, daring his critics to explain why it shouldn’t.

Helathcare reform has emerged as a key political issue in Wisconsin. Robert Kraig, communications and program director for Wisconsin Citizen Action noted: "In the 2006 elections the people of Wisconsin sent the Legislature an overwhelming mandate for genuine health care reform. Local advisory referendums throughout the state asking the Legislature to guarantee health care coverage and reduce costs passed by an astounding average of 83 to 17 percent. Last year's controversial defeat of a bill that would have given the Legislature a deadline to enact real health care reform became the top issue in pivotal state Senate and state Assembly races. It led to progressives gaining control of the Senate, and helped to elect to the State Assembly the largest progressive freshman class in over three decades elections."

It is widely anticipate that in the next few weeks the Senate Democrats led by Senate Majority leader, Judy Robson, a nurse, will add universal healthcare to this year's state budget, expanding on Governor Doyle's initiative, Badgercare Plus, that would provide healthcare coverage to all of the state's children.

"Sicko" is more than an entertaining film. It is a major political event that will help shape the 2008 elections.

The film opens in New York City tomorrow and nationally on June 29. It opens in Milwaukee on the 29th at the Oriental Theatre.

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