Sunday, June 24, 2007

'SiCKO' ...

"If you can spend money to kill people, you can spend money to help people."

That, my fellow Americans, is the sound bite for our times.

That quote isn't from Michael Moore. It's from a very urbane British gentleman, talking with Moore about England's healthcare system. See, England has been offering its citizens healthcare since 1948. On the heels of World War II, its cities in ruins, the decision was made to ensure that England's citizenry had access to medical care. Fifty-nine years later, they still do.

I went to an advance screening of "SiCKO" tonight, a sold-out advance screening. And even though I passed that adorable Nate Berkus in the theater concourse, the movie was the highlight of the evening.

Many of you might think that Michael Moore has an agenda. Damn right he has an agenda. An agenda to piss us off. To piss us off and rouse us out of our apolitical stupor. He's allowed to be biased. He's never claimed to be a journalist. (By the way, he has easily locked up his second Oscar, unless he removes this film from contention.) Say what you will about his films, this is one movie that must been seen. By everyone. Even if you're a card-carrying member of the NRA who hated Bowling for Columbine or a dyed-in-the-wool red stater who thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was a load of crap, there's no arguing with the sorry state of healthcare in this country. It's a unilateral issue. Even if you have coverage, you should be pissed off and heartbroken that insurance companies and hospitals are literally putting patients in cabs and instructing the drivers to drop them off on skid row.

Oh how I wish that I was making that up. But I'm not. Moore has the footage to prove it.

And even if you think it's an isolated incident, I say to you that treating even one person in such a despicable, inhuman manner is one person too many.

The Chicago chapter of Progressive Democrats of America was outside the theater after the screening, handing out flyers about its support for Rep. John Conyers' (D-Mich.) bill, H.R. 676, "which establishes streamlined, nonprofit national health insurance - enhanced Medicare for All - which would negotiate drug and treatment costs."

Remember, drug and insurance companies are for-profit businesses, and they're getting richer and richer on the backs of Americans who are driven into bankruptcy.

Onscreen, Moore visits France and sits down with a lovely middle-class couple. He's an engineer. She's an assistant (administrative, I presume). They reveal that their monthly income is about $8,000. Their mortgage is about $1,500.

"What other big expenses do you have?" Moore asks.

They shrug.

He asks again.

The woman thinks for a moment. "Fish," she says. "And vegetables. Yogurt," she says, showing him the contents of the fridge. "And holidays! Very important."

His point is, we've been warned about the downside of France's healthcare system: massive taxes. And yet, a middle-class couple with three children lives perfectly well, in a lovely home with a well-stocked refrigerator and takes vacations regularly, because in France, in addition to a 35-hour work week, even part-time workers receive a minimum of five weeks of vacation a year.

I don't want to go into more details about the film because I want everyone to experience it for themselves. But please see it. This isn't a Republican issue. This isn't a Democratic issue. This is an American issue.

The dapper British gent points out that when people are fearful and demoralized, it's easy to keep them in line. How many people stay in their jobs, no matter how unfulfilling, for the healthcare? Jobs that provide incomes they need in order to pay for the massive crush of debt they live under, say, from student loans? Know anyone like that? I do. And the funny thing is, they're doctors, doctors who are disgusted with the healthcare system in this country but who can't afford not to be doctors, because they owe a combined $300,000 in loans that paid for medical school. And fear? How long has our national alert level been at Orange? We're herded like cattle through airport security to ensure we're not carrying a four-ounce bottle of shampoo, but cargo is loaded into the holds without a single scan. How's that for psychology?

Meanwhile, this country has gotten apathetic to the point of unconsciousness. We get outraged over the ending of The Sopranos but voter turnout is abysmal.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of Sunday, June 24, 2007, our resident population will be 302,167,264. What if just one percent of the population showed up in Washington and demanded change? Three million people in one place is a lot to ignore. And what if we didn't leave? What if we didn't shut up? What if just one more one percent voted in the next election? Three million votes are three million messages. (And yes, I know not everyone in the population is old enough to vote or registered. Let's not split hairs, shall we?)

This is your country. See this movie. Get fired up. Get involved. Don't accept everything the government says at face value. Start asking questions. Make it your business to be informed.

Your life depends on it.

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Anonymous girlanddog said...

Great post, Beth. I can't wait to watch the movie! It's always pissed me off how apathetic Americans can be. So long as they have their SUV's and their televisions to keep them occupied, they will let their government walk all over them and will ignore the plight of those who have less. Really sad...

11:13 AM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Excellent post, Beth. I can't wait to see this movie.

I especially liked the part about the French couple. We have been fed so much bullshit about life in the EU. I am so sick and tired of this idea that America is perfect and we can never try a different way.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Damon said...

Thank you for your blog on Sicko. Please allow me to say the following in opposition to Mr. Moore. Preventable illness comprises 80% of the burden of illness and 90% of all healthcare costs. Preventable illnesses account for eight of the nine leading categories of death. No medicine, surgery or treatment can reverse the damage caused by a lifetime of smoking, poor eating and lack of exercise. If no such treatment is available, then there is no economic system that would provide a treatment. Treatments exist today to buy individuals time to get back on their feet toward healthier lifestyles. There is no replacement for health living. Thus, NO ECONOMIC SYSTEM CAN SOLVE MARKET FAILURES DRIVEN BY UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLES.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

girl and j. - Thanks!

Damon - You're quite right that personal resposibility for one's health factors greatly into this entire equation. But there are some health issues that aren't a result of poor choices. Genetics plays a role. Environment plays a role. One of the stories in the film is about a little girl (four years old, I believe) who spiked a temperature above 104. The mother called 911. An ambulance, rightly, took her to the nearest hospital. But that hospital was out of the mother's insurance network. The insurer, Kaiser-Permanente, told her that she should take her child - by car, not ambulance - to an in-network hospital. The mother begged the staff to ignore the insurance company. They refused to treat her daughter. Eventually, the mother took her to the other hospital. The girl went into a seizure then cardiac arrest. And died.

That's the kind of infuriating story of which I speak.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of Sunday, June 24, 2007, our resident population will be 302,167,264. What if just one percent of the population showed up in Washington and demanded change? Three million people in one place is a lot to ignore.

But this also sums up why I tend to ignore pleas for 100,000 people to sign a petition to speak out for or against a given issue. That might get attention in a town of 110000, but nationwide? Pfft.

Neither here nor there, but wanted to piggy back on your statistics.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Then again, Etch, maybe more than 100,000 will sign. I figure it's better to do something than nothing, if only to make my particular Representative or Senator know that one of their constituents is paying attention. It's like when I worked in newspapers: For every person who took the time to call to complain about a story, we extrapolated that many more were pissed but didn't pick up the phone. And frankly, I think the government counts on us just shutting up and doing nothing.

Which is why we shouldn't shut up. Maybe we won't make a difference with our petitions or letters, but we can guarantee that nothing will happen if we don't say something.

Remember this quote? "First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me."

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Yes, but "speaking up" by way of a petition arguably would not have had much of a bearing on the outcome.

I also dispute that signing a petition in the interest of any cause constitutes "doing something". But I'm a cynical jerk that way. :-(

I have an article in the works expanding on this, FWIW. Not that I expect much to change.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Hmm. I'll have to ruminate on this a bit more, Eth. But off the top of my head (and it's still fuzzy from having just woken up), I'd argue that the advent of the internets has had an effect on politics.

How many people called or wrote to a senator before orgs like MoveOn started making people aware of the goings-on of Washington? When I get those, "Can you call your Senator regarding X ..." e-mails, I often call. But did I call my Reps and Sens in the past? Nope. Did I even know their numbers? Nope. But it's easy to find that information now online.

Yes, maybe 100,000 signatures on a petition doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but I still think it's better to say something, in some form, than remaining silent. And maybe signing a petition primes a political pump for some people and gets them more involved than they would have been otherwise.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

It amazes me how people think the government should legislate personal responsibility. Don't have enough, the government will provide. Spend your money on drugs and beer rather than pay for health insurance, no problem, the government will pay your bill when you OD. Can't work because you have six kids from five different fathers, no problem, the government will provide.

When everybody is provided for, there will be no-one left to provide.

Where do the medical advances come from? What was France's last contribution to the world's health problems? A Face Transplant. America has the best health care system, bar none, in the world. AIDS and Cancer research done in this country have advanced the treatment of those diseases in the last decade. That research is funded by profit. Sure, lets make the system non-profit so we can go back to the stone ages where it was completely acceptable for a surgeon to lop off a woman's breast to treat breast cancer.

We need more government programs. Everybody knows how efficient the government is and how fairly they distribute resources. The mediocritization of America marches on.

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, I couldn't agree with you more.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Well, Jeff, sometimes it's still necessary to "lop off a woman's breast to treat breast cancer."

I'm not clear on when access to medical care became a privilege.

When I lost my job in 2000, I couldn't afford health insurance. I had just bought a house and suddenly, I had no income. Money for health insurance? Where was that going to come from? My parents offered to loan me the money, but I didn't accept it. I was already in enough debt. I gambled that nothing would happen to me until I got a job and got coverage again.

I'm not suggesting that everyone should be allowed to simply rely on the government for everything. Surely there's personal responsibility involved. We should all strive to be healthier so we don't put an undue strain on the healthcare system with high incidences of heart disease and diabetes and obesity, etc.

But what about the people who can't afford healthcare, for whatever reason, and suffer, say, a brain aneurysm? They just have to die? Period? There should be nothing available to help them?

My parents are retired. My father has a part-time job which very generously offers him health insurance, and he and my mother are both eligible for Medicare now, but my dad won't be able to work forever. And the supplemental insurance they'll need to carry when he stops working will cost them at least $1,000 a month. My parents aren't financially strapped at the present moment, but they worry about the time when they'll have to shell out $12,000 a year, when they have no income, just to cover health insurance.

It's a HUGE problem in this country. It's easy to say, "Well, everyone just has to find a way to pay for it themselves," but that's not reality.

And the BIGGER issue is that even people who have health insurance are frequently denied healthcare. Insurers deny claims all the time. Or cancel policies retroactively. There are people who work for the insurance companies whose sole job is to scour your medical history to find anything that might allow them to deny you care. Ever had a headace? Didn't disclose that on your application? Or didn't check the "Yes" box on the line that lumped "headaches" with "heart attack" or "kidney failure"? Well, you just lied on your application. Denied.

10:54 AM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

sometimes it's still necessary to "lop off a woman's breast to treat breast cancer."
Agreed, but that's the exception rather than the rule these days.

I think there's a difference between "health care" and "health insurance". Basic health care is a necessary evil in an advanced society. A guy gets in a car accident, the health care system has the responsibility to fix his broken leg and get him on his way. Basic health care, however, doesn't extend to six months of physical therapy and two years of psychiatric therapy.

Should there be affordable basic health insurance? Sure, but let the market decide, not the government. I'm talking basic health insurance here, not a litany of CT and MRI for the common cold.

Are there parts of the system that are broken? Sure. Because you have health insurance you end up paying 2-3 times what your services cost because you can afford it. Is that fair? If you need emergency treatment to survive and you get turned away because your insurance isn't taken at that hospital, yeah, that's criminal. Again, however, I think we're talking about a very small minority of the greater population. A HUGE problem, I don't think so.

Even assuming the 44.5 million people in this country without health insurance can't afford it (which, let's face it, is probably by choice, for some of them as it was with you) that's still only 15% of the population.

Do I have the solution? Absolutely not. But there's at least two sides to every story. Don't listen to everything the government says, but don't listen to everything a movie says either.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Well, we certainly agree that there are at least two sides to every story, Jeff.

But like I said in my post, I'm encouraging people to get involved and get informed. I'm not suggesting that Moore's stance is the end all, be all. But it's certainly a good jumping-off point for a much-needed discussion about a serious problem.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Dana said...

"Meanwhile, this country has gotten apathetic to the point of unconsciousness. We get outraged over the ending of The Sopranos but voter turnout is abysmal."

Isn't that sad?

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blog away but which one of you is actually going to DO something. Come on. You criticize Americans for being apathetic but what are YOU doing? Right now. You say we need to make a difference but when are YOU going to D.C.? What are YOU doing to get others to go. I mean REALLY GO and not just blog about it or comment on how wonderful the blog was. Criticize others if you want but stop talking and DO something. By the way, I don't even watch the Sopranos. I never saw it. I work and I work hard and don't have time for movies or TV shows.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Sheesh, Anon, I just saw the movie three days ago. Give me time to do something!

Voter turnout is routinely below 50 percent. Americans are apathetic. But I think that apathy is a fuction of feeling demoralized, of feeling as though their votes and voices don't count.

Trust me, I'm fired up about this issue and I will be taking active steps to do what I can to turn the tide. But I, like you, still have to work every day, too. The fact that this post has generated so many comments heartens me. Getting people to talk about an issue is a positive first step. Not everyone will take action, but some will. And that's how change begins.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll give you the fact that you only saw the movie a few days ago but I would think that this isn't the first time you've been fired up about an issue. You must have in the past, felt that changes needed to be made about something. What about all the other times, the other issues? Besides voting and this blog, what have you done? I'm all for making a difference but please don't make blanket statements about people you don't know.
I encourage YOU to get more involved. You have great enthusiasm. Use that and get something started.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

One of my friends once said to me, "Oh, come on, Beth. We all know you're going to lead a march on Washington someday."

Don't know if it'll ever come to that, but I do get involved. I call and write my Senators and Representatives about issues that concern me. I donate to campaings. I do write Letters to the Editor of my local paper to make my voice heard in my community. But yes, I can do more, and I intend to.

In the non-political arena, I believe in finding a cure for breast cancer, so every year, I walk 60 miles over three days to raise money and awareness for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. I believe in conservation, so I take steps to reduce my impact on the Earth.

So thank you for the encouragement. Likewise, I encourage you and all who read my blog to get more involved. I truly believe that if we all do a little, big things can happen.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Damon, who wrote:
healthier lifestyles. There is no replacement for health living. Thus, NO ECONOMIC SYSTEM CAN SOLVE MARKET FAILURES DRIVEN BY UNHEALTHY LIFESTYLES.

What part of "health care system" don't you understand? What makes you put support for healthy living *outside* the health care system? Is it because you're so duped by the insurance and drug companies that you buy their lie that sickness-insurance is a health-care system?

Have you seen Sicko? The British doctor in it described how his bonuses were tied to things like getting his patients to quit smoking & reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol!! Are you saying that a system of hundreds of little incentives of *that* kind would have *no* impact on healthy lifestyles in a country?

10:02 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Very well put, Beth ... I think Moore's strongest work comes when he compares us to the rest of the world ... Through this, he always makes his case stronger, leaving his critics with only the need to whine ... I sure hope the theater owners wake up and start showing this wider so it can finally reach my little corner of the world!

6:29 PM  

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