Thursday, November 4, 2010


I must admit that I did not want to see this documentary. I've never been terribly impressed by Michael Moore. The problem is that he seems like just another biased documentarist or talk-show host. Most of that impression I derived from seeing an earlier documentary of his, Fahrenheit 9/11. In that documentary, Moore seeks to persuade the viewer that Bush was indirectly responsible for the attacks in a way that was neither convincing or very factual. Consequently, I came out of that particular film sympathizing more with Bush than I had before, which is surely not what Moore intended.

However, with Sicko, it is clear that Michael Moore has grown and matured as a documentarist (is that even a word?). The subject matter with Sicko is that of the United States healthcare system, highlighting its flaws, and its capacity to ruin people with insane costs and profit-oriented insurance companies. Michael Moore approaches the subject with an open mind along with tongue-in-cheek humor which makes the documentary both entertaining and informative. There is still a clear bias, but it is one that largely seems supported by facts and rationally thought out conclusions, which is perfect for a documentary seeking to make a point. Essentially split into two parts, I am going to address each major segment/idea of the film to explain the point Moore tries to make along with whether the point was clearly made or not.

Insurance Companies and Profiteering

The first major point Michael Moore seeks to make is to explain how the for-profit focus of insurance companies creates a corrupt system where the companies seek to make a killing and simultaneously avoid paying for people who really need attention based on flimsy excuses. He does this by showing the viewer cases of people who have been screwed over by the system along with interviews with medical personnel.

This was a very persuasive section of the documentary, and one that I already knew of as being a major problem with American healthcare. In fact, most people know that the insane costs of healthcare in America are a key problem with it; fixing relatively small injuries can cost tens of thousands of dollars and addressing life-threatening ones can go even higher. This quickly creates a scenario where, when anyone needs medical help, they are up to their eyes in debt within no time flat. This problem is only exacerbated by the tendency for insurance companies to do their best to create reasons not to pay for the service they are specifically being paid to provide. In short, insurance companies try to make up stuff so that they don't actually have to do what they are supposed to do, and thus saving themselve from having to pay for surgeries, medicines, and such. Bringing up pre-existing conditions is a prominent one, and also creates situations where people with pre-existing conditions are turned away because the insurance company only wants people who they won't have to pay for.

The insurance company part of this documentary is out of date though. If I'm not mistaken (and I will look into this to make sure), Obama's Healthcare Bill now makes it illegal for insurance companies to turn away people based on pre-existing conditions, which helps immensely (Sicko was produced in 2007). However, the prohibitive costs of healthcare in general remain astronomically high and, irritatingly, has been going even higher with the passing of the bill. And insurance companies have still been doing their best to avoid spending money helping people. Needless to say, this is an area that definitely needs attention, regulation, and the passing of some laws in order to be made equitable and fair. The costs of healthcare service in the United States tends to bankrupt anyone who is not upper class, and this is clearly a problem.

Universal Healthcare

The more divisive issue that Michael Moore tries to persuade the viewer of is that of making healthcare universal in the United States in a way that is government supported and provided. To make this point, Moore builds on his earlier argument and points out many more cases exist of people who simply can't get healthcare, casuing many unnecessary deaths and untold amounts of emotional and physical pain for people throughout the country. In what is perhaps even more persuasive, although not without holes, is Moore's travel to a number of countries with universal healthcare that do the job without nearly as much fuss, cost, or difficulties. These countries include Canada, Great Britain, France, and Cuba.

The problem with Moore's argument here is that he doesn't seem to go far enough. He holds forth these countries as having far better healthcare than that of America, but does so in a way that causes skepticism. The healthcare systems of these countries seem almost utopic in nature, without any faults or abuse anywhere. Even Cuba's system appears within this documentary to be so much easier, cheaper, and more effective than our own. This is not to diss on Cuba, but Moore fails to look into anything but the good sides of these working universal healthcare systems. People shown in the documentary apparently only have to wait thirty minutes to an hour for instant, gratifying, and free healthcare, and that does not fit with what I've learned elsewhere. I find it hard to believe that these systems are so perfect, and I will be doing some research when I get time on this. I simply don't believe that these comparisons are fair or fully explained. At no time does he mention a huge problem facing the prospect of universal healthcare in the United States; the United States is much bigger than any of those countries, so what might be good for them and their small populations would be much harder to implement in a country as big as the USA.


Overall, Sicko was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I already knew the details of most of what he talked about but, for some reason, the way the documentary was presented made me far more aware of the problems of the healthcare system. I am fully convinced that insurance companies and the system itself make for something far more costly than it should be. But I'm not so swayed on the idea of universal healthcare. Certainly, it would be nice, but implementing a universal healthcare system across a territory as large as ours is a monumental and probably expensive-as-hell undertaking. Not to mention that it may not be constitutional and cases would inevitably be raised over states' rights. The federal government would need to impose this hypothetical system on all the states, and this could, in effect, create a constitutional crisis. We are already seeing this with the implementation of Obama's healthcare plan, which is not nearly as far-reaching. Some states have refused to put it into effect.

But this documentary has prompted me to research to verify if all of what Michael Moore said is true. If so, then I will have to say that I'm all for universal healthcare. In this documentary, it sounds like the most wonderful thing in the world. But I have my doubts, so we'll see.

To anyone who doesn't know much about the United States and its healthcare system, this is an excellent documentary to learn from. It also assesses the chronological changes made to the system in the past forty-something years, and thus is a superb briefer on the dilemmas and controversies surrounding the system. If you already know a lot about the healthcare system, this is still worth a watch. Michael Moore's position is persuasive and, while I'm skeptical of some of it, overall it is a fair position to take built on a number of facts and rational conclusions.

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