With the humor, realism, and moving imagery we’ve come to expect from Michael Moore, Sicko is exactly the medicine needed by the public debate around health care. The film has three simple messages: First, the American health care “system” is utterly broken, not just for the 40 million uninsured, but potentially for all of us. Second, this is totally unnecessary; other countries have systems that work quite well. Third, this is far more than an economic issue—the way we treat the sickest among us is a moral disgrace of staggering proportions.
As a frequent speaker and teacher on health policy, I’ve learned that most Americans, even the well educated, know very little about our health care system. A popular view in the street or classroom is that anybody can get access to care “if they’re sick enough,” or if they know who and how to ask for it. Sicko fully explodes this myth, and identifies clearly the for-profit elements of our system that are to blame—health insurance companies, drug companies, the AMA, and private HMOs and hospitals.
The film details how their lobbyists and fundraisers corrupt national politics to keep their profits. Meantime, thanks to 80 years of propaganda by these sectors against government sponsored health care, Americans also tend to be skeptical of universal systems such as Canada’s, England’s and France’s, and the film’s tour of those generally well functioning systems is a powerful antidote to the hype.
Naturally, the for-profit health sector is fuming about Sicko and have already begun their counter-attack, leveling the usual charge against socially responsible journalism, that it shows a “liberal bias.” The truth is that money has assured this debate’s ultra-conservative bias for so long, that Moore’s view is sorely needed to balance the picture.
Christie W. Kiefer is professor emeritus of anthropology at UC San Francisco and a board member of Lifelong Medical Care. LifeLong Medical Care (www.lifelongmedical.org) was formed in 1996 as a merger between two clinics with deep community roots in Berkeley. The Over 60 Health Center began in 1976 as an outgrowth of the Gray Panthers, a senior citizens’ advocacy organization. In 1989, Berkeley Primary Care was born in response to citizen protest over the closing of Herrick Hospital and a lack of prenatal care for low-income women. Since the merger, Lifelong has grown to encompass five medical clinics, a dental clinic, an Adult Day Health Center for elders with complex care needs, and a Supportive Housing Program for formerly homeless adults.
LifeLong is known as the primary “safety net” provider of medical services to the uninsured and those with complex health needs in Berkeley, North Oakland, downtown Oakland, east Oakland, Albany and Emeryville. In 2004, LifeLong provided approximately 101,000 primary care visits to over 17,000 people, nearly half of whom were uninsured.