I’ve just finished watching Michael Moore‘s new film ‘Sicko‘, a polemic against the American health care system and a paean to socialized medicine. I was a big fan of Michael Moore’s first film ‘Roger and Me‘, an exploration of the impact of the closing of a General Motors plan in his home town of Flint, but less keen on his subsequent two. This reservation less concerns less Moore’s choice of subject matter, but more his poorly constructed arguments and tendency to widen his attack into broad swipe at the
With this film he keep his focus and it’s devastating. Moore visits American citizens denied vital medical care due to their lack of health insurance; he interviews people who had health insurance but found their insurers unwilling to cover their bills and most shockingly reports on a child that died having was taken to a hospital not covered by her insurers and denied care there; she arrested on arrival at the approved facility.
Having set out his stall Moore visits the alternatives: the UK, France and finally Cuba. Moore’s view of the NHS is somewhat rose-tinted; he does not devote a single second to the problems with the model, instead choosing to interview a wealthy young GP and extrapolating. However it was a pleasure to see someone being positive about our way and made me realise that, despite its faults, we are lucky to have universal healthcare here. The irrepressible Tony Benn gets a look in too, opining how democracy empowers people and that the way of emasculating the poor is to keep them sick and demoralised; demoralised people don’t vote. Benn imagines a time when the poor will mobilize and tell their governments what they really want.
Much like the French often do. Moore interviews a group of Americans in Paris, some of whom seem simply unable to believe their luck at being able to access the services the French government provides. Finally, having heard about the high standard of health care afforded to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the film closes with Moore’s visit to Cuba, taking along volunteers from 9/11’s ground zero who are suffering from respiratory problems but denied healthcare by the US government because they were not under its employ at the time of the attack. The Cuban doctors provide the American citizens tests not available to them in the USA. Cuba’s health system costs just $251 per citizen, but Moore claims that the average life expectancy is higher than the USA. This part of the film is particularly poignant.
I highly recommend this film, but left it wanting more. It’s hard to know if Moore really cares about the state of his nation’s health, or whether this is just for him a new avenue to make further attacks on right wing politics in the USA. Sometimes I feel that he’s playing around at the edges, when what we really need from him is a magnum opus: a dissection how to correct what is sick at the heart of American society, whilst celebrating it’s strengths. Or perhaps there can be no unravelling; America is so successful precisely because of its devotion to commerce and people are attracted to the country precisely because its toleration of inequality is what allows people to make and keep such enormous amount of money there. With right wing politics dominating American for the past thirty years, we can but hope for a change with this new presidental election.