Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Propaganda or Best Practices?

Sunday night, while I still back in Pittsburgh for the weekend, we caught a late showing of "Sicko" at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill. It's the latest documentary film / propaganda piece (depending on your point from view) from Michael Moore, the director/writer/narrator of "Roger & Me," "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Contrary to what would be natural to assume, "Sicko" is not about the millions of Americans who do not have any health care insurance.

The film focuses on HMOs in the United States and the quality of care they provide. Moore's thesis is that millions of Americans have insufficient health care -- especially working class Americans confronted with very serious health conditions, high co-pays and denials for some kinds of treatments. Moore contrasts the HMO system in the U.S. to what he aims to show are superior national health care systems in Canada, Britain, France and Cuba.

I should say that I do not know enough about the way health care works in the United States or any other country to comment sufficiently on Moore's claims. But, I do think that "Sicko" raises some good questions:

-- Do the American political system and financial system permit (or encourage) an approach to health care that is not beneficial for the country in the long run?

-- Do insurance companies value profits more than people?

-- Are there "best practices" that we should study in other countries?

-- Are their fundamental moral / ethical questions that the American people need to address where health care is concerned? Is health care a human right? Is government the best or only means by which we could guarantee that human right? Is this a pro-life issue?

Aside from the political questions, "Sicko" was reasonably entertaining just as a movie-going experience. Perhaps the best moment came when Moore revealed he sent an anonymous $12,000 check to one of the authors of when that author had financial troubles that were due at least in part to the rising cost of health care premiums for his ill wife. It was a stunt -- but an entertaining one.

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