No wait, stay with me! I know, just hearing the phrase "health care"—tossed out ad infinitum by politicians and pundits—is enough to give you the chills, a fever, and nausea. Sure, you suspect there's an important debate to be had over health care, but anything involving HMOs gives you a bout of narcolepsy. I'm with you.
I suspect that's exactly why Michael Moore turned his camera on the topic with his latest film, Sicko. In just under two hours, the provocateur/filmmaker sums up exactly what's wrong with the American health care system, by letting patients who've been screwed—and insurance company employees who've been complicit in the screwing—tell their stories. You hear from a man who accidentally sawed off the ends of two fingers, and then—since he didn't have insurance—had to choose which one he could afford to have reattached. Elsewhere, 9/11 rescuers find themselves unable to afford the medical help they need for illnesses they've contracted from the materials at Ground Zero. And a woman tells the horrific story of her insurance company's denial of a potentially life-saving bone-marrow transplant for her husband's cancer. He died a few weeks later. (In making Sicko, Moore had plenty of anecdotes to choose from—when he solicited "health care horror stories" via his website last year, 25,000 flooded his inbox within a week.)
But Moore doesn't just rip off the band-aid to expose the health care industry's wounds—he also offers a salve, by showcasing countries that have made free health care available to their citizens. Canadians rave over their easy health care access—and fret about visiting the US, in case they should land in one of our hospitals. Meanwhile, those in a British hospital actually laugh when Moore asks where the billing department is (he does find a "cashier," who hands out money to reimburse patients' travel costs). And in France, Moore tracks down expat Americans who love the "family-friendly" health and child care policies of their adopted home. In short, Moore makes the case that a government-run health care system—even one like Cuba's—is fair, equitable, and a no-brainer solution that the US should adopt. (Especially since we already share the responsibility for paying for police, fire fighters, and public schools.)
There's no question that Sicko is a brilliant documentary. Moore outdoes himself—largely by stepping aside, keeping his usual "gotcha" pranks to a minimum, and personalizing a complex issue. The question, however, is how effective Moore's public shaming of the US health care industry will be. He's recast the debate in terms we can all understand—explaining the problem as "[here is] what the greatest country ever in the history of the universe does to its own people, simply because they have the misfortune of getting sick." But will Americans listen? And if they do, will they join Moore in demanding a solution?