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Vol. LXI, No. 26
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

NOW LET ME SEE IF I'VE GOT THIS STRAIGHT: Michael Moore (left) discusses a patient's case with an unidentified member of the patient's medical team in one of the several medical cases described in Moore's latest documentary film.

Sicko: Michael Moore Takes Aim at America's Healthcare in Exposé

Kam Williams

Michael Moore has made a career of exposing hypocrisy in the ranks of corporate and political bureaucracies. His first film, Roger and Me (1989), described the economic blight that befell Flint, Michigan as a result of General Motors' decision to close Flint's factories and outsource the work to Mexico.

The controversial gadfly's next target was the gun lobby in Bowling for Columbine (2002), a picture which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. In Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) he raised the question as to whether President Bush had a hidden agenda in declaring war on Iraq.

In Sicko he takes aim at America's healthcare system by contrasting the horror stories of patients mistreated by insurance companies domestically with the healthcare systems used in Canada, France, England, and Cuba. Few people are likely to reject the case Moore makes for universal healthcare because Sicko is the iconoclastic filmmaker's least divisive documentary to date.

Wisely, he has opted to rely less on showboating in favor of simply allowing his interview subjects relate their compelling stories like a couple that goes bankrupt and moves in with their daughter because of their medical bills; or a widow who tearfully recounts how her late husband died of kidney cancer after being denied coverage for a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant, despite the fact that his brother, who was an exact match for him, was a willing donor.

In other examples, a father talks about how his insurance company approved cochlear implant surgery in only one of his deaf daughter's ears; a man, who accidentally sawed off two of his fingers, recalls having to choose which one he wanted reattached; and a woman, rendered unconscious in a car accident, was forced to pay her ambulance bill because the ride had not been pre-approved by her HMO; and so forth.

It doesn't take long to figure out that the tail is wagging the dog, and that the powerful insurance industry is telling doctors how to conduct their practices. Service has become secondary to making money and more than one physician admits, on camera, to having relied on the flimsiest of excuses to turn away patients who were refused reimbursement for a valid claim, or to drop a seriously ill patient for similar reasons.

Moore shows how frustrated Americans have begun looking elsewhere for affordable healthcare and how foreigners are content with socialized medicine. Towards the end of the film, he takes some of the people we've just watched to Cuba where they receive free treatment for their maladies that were not covered by their insurance in the States.

Making it abundantly clear that the United States is a very dangerous place to be if you are poor, sick, and old, this film suggests that the American Medical Association ought to consider changing the Hippocratic oath from "First, do no harm," to "First, maximize profits."

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for brief profanity. Running time: 113 minutes. Studio: The Weinstein Company.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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