The View From 32


JULY 23, 2007  

Ticket for Sicko, the movie

Monday, movie night

Today was my first day on my own after Joanne left for Finland. Turned out to be pretty much the same as usual: make coffee, eat breakfast, read the paper, check email, this & that... then since it's Monday, how about a movie?

Although there's a lot that I didn't pick up from my parents' way of life, they sure imprinted in me the search for a bargain. I hate to pass up Bargain Price Monday at Cleveland Cinemas, with its $5 admission and free peopcorn. I decided on Michael Moore's Sicko, since that's a movie Joanne had no interest in seeing together.

Sicko turned out to be funnier and sadder than I expected. Moore cranked up his tongue-in-cheek use of old films, TV shows and songs to comment on serious issues. A segment of a Soviet propaganda film showing happy workers singing as they bring in the harvest makes you shake your head in amazement that anyone could take that seriously.

But the funny parts only kept you from weeping with despair as Moore used his typical approach of showing individuals caught in the brutal bureaucracy of our managed-care system, where denying treatment makes money for the insurance company.

In a dramatic—maybe overly dramatic—trip to Cuba, Moore arranges for several 911 rescue workers to get medical treatment denied to them (or too expensive) in the U.S. Although he states that they received the same care any Cuban citizen would receive, it's easy to be skeptical. The Cuban government might easily be tempted to go all out just to make the U.S. look bad. So maybe you can discount the validity of this scenario a bit.

What's harder to explain away are the facts about health and healthcare in the U.S. The differences are particularly stark when compared to countries that share many of our cultural values, like England and Canada. We're told over and over again that we've got the best healthcare system in the world. Statistics, including those of the U.S. CIA itself, tell a different story. In life expectancy the U.S. is #45 on the list, with England (UK) #37 and Canada #13.

In infant mortality, often used to gauge a country's healthcare and nutrition, we are #180 with 6.37 deaths/thousand. The UK is #193 (5.01) and Canada #199 (4.63).

I spent some time online checking these statistics to assure myself that Moore wasn't just exaggerating to make his point. The more I checked, the worse I felt. Using sites like the CIA World Factbook and I looked at statistics for both health and economic issues. Then I tried the "Crime" category, figuring that we'd be pretty high on the "Murder" charts. The U.S. is #24 at .043/thousand people. This is pretty good compared to Russia's .20/thousand, but not nearly as good as Canada and the UK, both around .014/thousand. We have only one-fifth of the murder rate of Russia, but three times that of our English-speaking cousins.

Ah well.

No point in going on and on. I urge you to see Sicko, if for no other reason that to see that there are alternatives to the U.S. system of healthcare. Moore takes occasionally funny strolls through hospitals in the UK, Canada and France, where healthcare is free and universal. It can be done.

Can we in the U.S. do it? Hard to imagine. Moore tries hard to end on a hopeful note but the film raises for me the hard question of whether we as a country are willing to sacrifice some individual power/control/money to make a better society for everyone. Honestly, I don't see this happening. I hope I'm wrong.

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