<i>Sicko</i> Diagnoses a Cure for the Nation

We were privileged to be among 50 people in an intimate private screening in New York a few days before the premiere in Cannes Saturday night.
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Perhaps the exponents of expediency just haven't met the rescue heroes of September 11 still plagued by debilitating respiratory illnesses, but unable to get the healthcare they need in the country they volunteered to help in our hour of despair.

Or the machinist and his newspaper editor wife who had to sell their home and move into a cramped room in their daughter's house when his heart attacks and her cancer caused their medical bills to soar.

Or the woman whose husband died after their insurer refused to authorize a bone marrow transplant from his younger brother because it was "experimental."

They are among the stars of Michael Moore's riveting new film Sicko, that we were privileged to be among 50 people in an intimate private screening in New York a few days before the premiere in Cannes Saturday night where it was the hottest ticket in town and greeted with well-deserved rave reviews.

Many of those in the New York audience, the real life stars of Sicko, were brought to tears by a film and filmmaker who viewed their lives with a lot more humanity than the insurance companies who had treated them with such calculated disregard.

The people, who, as one industry whistleblower says in the film, didn't just "fall through the cracks." They were deliberately thrown overboard.

Cast aside by the same insurance giants that far too many ostensible reformers think we should reward for their greed by funneling them hundreds of millions dollars more.

Sicko is not just an indictment of an indefensible healthcare industry in the U.S. It's a rejoinder for those who think we can fix the soulless monster by tinkering with an unconscionable system that puts us further in thrall to those who created the crisis.

Following the screening, Moore put it as simply as possible: the private insurance companies "have to go."

Unlike too many of our friends in the progressive community, Moore did not go for the easy way out.

There are no calls here for forcing individuals to buy unaffordable, junk insurance. Or handing over ever more tax dollars to those who profit by denying care, and whose biggest accomplishment, says Moore, "is buying our U.S. Congress" to protect their wealth and stranglehold over our health.

There are no cynical ad homonyms to not let "the perfect be the enemy of the good" - the last refuge of the politicians desperate to convince us, and perhaps themselves as well, that the Faustian compromises they propose will all be OK. Tell it to the worker in Sicko who had to choose between restoring one severed finger for $60,000 or another for $12,000.

No, Moore doesn't feel he has to temporize with people's lives or accede to those whose goal, he says, is to "frighten and demoralize" people so they are unable to fight.

Moore doesn't think the problem is "too much" medical care, or people who want to over utilize the system by spending hours waiting in an Emergency Room. Among the rare gems here is one of Richard Nixon's taped conversations, in the Oval Office with John Ehrlichman on the eve of Nixon's 1971 law promoting managed care. You can rest assured, Ehrlichman promises Nixon, "all the incentives are towards less medical care."

Sicko has no trouble finding a solution. It can be found in the rest of the world. There's no hand wringing here for the ideologues who are already attacking Moore for promoting the alternative- medical systems he visits to Canada, England, France, and even Cuba, countries, says Moore, where when it comes to the nation's health, they know the distinction between the "we" and the "me.".

Here's what Moore found. Care "doesn't depend on your premiums, it depends on your needs," the film reports. You don't have to check your health security at the door, or mortgage your future when at your most sick and vulnerable.

Moore's not even afraid of the inevitable complaints about "socialized" medicine. "Back home in America we're socializing lots of things," Sicko finds, among them our fire and police service, Social Security checks, and even the library.

At a time when the apologists of accommodation are promoting the lowest common denominator, Moore most of all offers a vision and hope.

"Not all of us have a kid in Iraq, but all of us have been to see a doctor, or paid for a prescription, or have elderly parents," he said after the screening. To put it another way, there's no free marketers in hospital beds, just patients.

The health care crisis "will bring us together," says Moore. And, I'd add, Sicko will help us get there.