July 3, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Michael Moore’s Sicko brought in $4.5 million in its opening weekend, and it seems like anyone who’s seen it has an opinion about the film and its subject. The WSJ health blog has compiled reviews from major newspapers; if you’re interested in blogger reactions, too, we have a few suggestions:

Merrill Goozner at GoozNews sets aside his complaints about what went into making the film to praise its emotional appeal and discuss its potential to affect the political healthcare debate:

The national discussion provoked by the film will inevitably focus on the gross failures and inequities of the U.S. health insurance system, as it should. And like most people who know too much about that system, I could complain for hours about the inaccuracies, unfair comparisons, agit-prop stunts and questionable political judgments that went into the making of “Sicko.” You’ll read plenty such comments in the mainstream media when the reviewers get their hands on the film this weekend, and you may have a few of those thoughts yourself when you go see it.


The film is filled with heartrending stories of people who couldn’t afford or were denied care, usually by profit-maximizing insurance companies. And that is ultimately what keeps us glued to the screen. Indeed, the real people whose stories Moore tells triumph over the questionable settings in which he put some of them (I’m thinking here of the highly publicized stunt of taking ill and injured 9/11 rescue workers who can’t afford needed medical treatments on boats to Guantanamo Bay to demand health care as good as the detainees ostensibly get).

But is individual misfortune enough to sway a political debate that will be dominated by people with their own well-financed megaphones and a compliant media willing to spread their distortions? Already Moore is being attacked for promoting socialized medicine, even though neither Canada nor France directly employ most of their physicians.

Mark H at Denialism Blog offers his own view of what makes Sicko emotionally effective, noting that his views are colored by his personal connections to medicine:

The most important thing to remember about this movie is that it is about people who have insurance. It is about those who have done the right thing, who have tried to protect themselves and their families and be responsible citizens, and the values of a country that allows them to be abused by hopelessly defective system.

Some of the most emotionally effective scenes came from the claims adjusters, medical officers and workers in the insurance industry who are clearly distraught by the damage the insurance industry does to good people who have paid good money and are still denied the care they deserve. In tears they describe how they have ruined lives to meet quotas, and denied care to people who suffered and even died as a results of their decisions. These are not bad people who work for the insurance companies, they are lodged in a system that seeks profit, that is all. And this is the root of the problem.


Moore is at his best when the movie is a true documentary. He points the camera at good people, who have done nothing to deserve the treatment they get, and the undeniable injustice of their treatment at the hands of insurance companies. The stunt of taking them to Cuba turned into the most emotionally poignant of the movie. These were firefighters and EMTs who were sick as a result of their efforts at the WTC after 9/11. The Cuban doctors treated them, without question, and these people in all sincerity were floored by the simple receipt of medical care. In a foreign country. In the third world. That is communist.

Meanwhile, Ed Silverman at Pharmalot has been keeping tabs on responses from groups funded by pharmaceutical companies:

Several groups are mobilizing to counteract a movie that few have seen yet. The Cato Institute, for example, is hosting a breakfast symposium tomorrow on Capitol Hill to show clips from SiCKO and other films about health care to 170 people. So many responded that the think tank had to change venues three times. “It’s a nice problem to have,” Cato’s Michael Cannon tells The New York Sun. Well, there is free food, Mike.

The Manhattan Institute has blitzed journalists with a list of ‘experts’ available to discuss SiCKO and health care issues. And yesterday, the advocacy group Health Care America held a conference call that drew nearly 20 reporters from around the country, including correspondents from the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, the paper reports.

“It definitely has to be rebutted,” says Sally Pipes, director of the Pacific Research Institute. According to SourceWatch, a left-leaning group that tracks public policy groups, several organizations responding to “Sicko” receive funding from drugmakers, including the Manhattan Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the Pacific Research Institute. So does Health Care America.

If you’ve seen Sicko, what did you think of it? How do you expect it to affect the U.S. healthcare debate?

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