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Review of “SiCKO” (2007) PG-13 123min

January 23rd, 2008 by Maxim · 5 Comments · 7,690 Views

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I live in LA, and I remember a recent “episode” that was all over local news when a security camera noticed the ambulance pull over in Skid Row and dump a lady with head trauma with almost no clothes on the street. The lady was disoriented, didn’t know where she was and had bandages over her head.

This and other horror stories about American health care system had made it into new Michael Moore’s documentary. I had not seen it when it came out in theatres because there were other movies to see, and it had been in my Netflix queue in “Long wait” status for several months. Finally it had arrived.

The DVD case for this movie says, “You’ll laugh till it hurts. One of the year’s best”. But unlike other Michael Moore’s “mockumentaries”, this movie is actually very sad. Almost every story told by people interviewed by Mike made my eyes fill up with tears. I was so frustrated and angry that in the richest country in the world the first thing you hear when you get into hospital is “Do you have money?”, and not “How may we help you get better?”. How is it possible that in country like ours people die simply because they could not pay for help? To complete my misery, I watched “Sicko” right after I saw Aaron Russo’s documentary “America: Freedom to Fascism” (a top watched video on Google, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1656880303867390173&hl=en) about our government imposing unconstitutional taxes and using IRS to extort money from citizens, but ultimately the problem being a conflict between democracy and capitalism: people with money having more power then poor people and how our government is serving the banks and not the people “because ones who control the money control the people”. It also talks a lot about America becoming more and more a police society where people live in fear of the government, and not the government fearing the people, like our founding fathers intended. The film included several interviews including one with now-presidential-candidate Ron Paul, Republican.

Back to Mike’s film. As Moore makes clear in his film, some 50 million Americans have no insurance and no way to get it. He chose several stories to tell from some 30,000 HMO horror stories he received by email from HMO customers and from HMO insiders. There was a story of a woman who lost her little daughter because hospital declined to take her in because they couldn’t verify her eligibility; a story of a woman with cancer who’s policy was cancelled by the insurance investigator who discovered that she didn’t honestly disclose all her pre-existing conditions she was supposed to had knowledge of, such as yeast infection she had in her teens. There was a story of a worker who lost his fingers in an industrial accident and had to chose which finger to have reattached because he could not afford both fingers. Stories of people who lost everything even though they had “full” coverage, but got denied coverage because they had pre-existing conditions and due to special provisions, like those 9/11 volunteers who had all sorts of health problems (psychological, respiratory problems due to asbestos), but were not even eligible to get insurance or got denied coverage because they “volunteered”. There was a story of a woman who got charged for the ride in the ambulance while she was unconscious because to have the ride covered by insurance she needed “prior authorization”. It was unclear how she was supposed to authorize the ride if she was out cold. Perhaps she should’ve called ambulance before she had traffic accident.

He then traveled and interviewed some people in countries that have “socialized” health care systems that provide medical help to every citizen indiscriminately: Canada, France, Cuba and UK – all of these countries have lower infant mortality rate then United States.

There are actually funny moments in the movie. One of them was when Mike got three motorboats full of sick people including some 9/11 volunteers who were denied insurance and care by HMOs because they were… well, volunteers, unlike firemen and policemen – to Guantanamo Bay! When they arrive, they ask to be admitted to the prison hospital to “get the same medical help Al Qaeda members get” – remember John Ashcroft et al telling various NGOs, UN and journalists that Guantanamo Bay detainees get free medical treatment at the same level American citizens do?

They ended up traveling to Cuba and getting help for free from Cuban doctors; one of the 9/11 volunteers was in tears (so was I) when she discovered that asthma medication she pays $100 in US for costs 5 cents in Cuba.

In France, Michael Moore “discovered” that people have 35 hour working week and any overtime counts toward vacation time; that patients can get home visits and unlimited paid sick leave for free, including a government employee (or health care organization’s employee paid by government) coming over to do your laundry if you are too sick to do it yourself. Doctors get paid premiums for the number of people that got better. One doctor insisted that he’d be paid bonus if he got more people off smoking.

Anyway, lots and lots of examples of HMO horror stories and stories about benefits of socialized medicine. The point Michael Moore is making is that in this country people associate “socialized” with government bureaucracies of worse, everyone marching with red banners and getting no treatment for months. He tries to prove that it is merely a myth created by American propaganda machine, ultimately going back to all problems stemming from lack of education (uneducated masses are easier to herd like sheep, uneducated masses are easier to control, uneducated masses don’t know how to do preventive medical care), and that the biggest flaw of American health system is that our health is in the hands of insurance companies, who have responsibility before their shareholders to turn out as much profit as possible, which they achieve by charging premiums and provided as little care as possible. Mike also makes the case that 75% of bankruptcies and homelessness are due to health care-related expenses even for people who think that they are fully covered.

The other joke was the final scene where Michael Moore carries a laundry basket to the White House: “I’d like to see if I can make MY government do my laundry for me.”

Another quick joke was the link to Canadian website that arranges marriages between U.S. citizens and Canadians to get free healthcare there.

There was also a rather funny episode when the owner of anti-Moore website had to discontinue it due to financial problems caused by his wife getting sick and their coverage was denied. Moore donated $12,000 to the owner of the website. His wife recovered and now he’s exercising his constitutional rights to trash Mike again.

Michael Moore also praised Hillary Clinton’s efforts in the 90s to guarantee the insurance for everyone, but the effort failed. One of the reasons, Michael says, was that all who supported the effort got paid off by the insurance and pharmaceutical lobby. There are four health care lobbyists for every congressman.

The theatrical version of the movie didn’t have it all, but the bonus features on DVD are also about 2 hours long and contain very interesting interviews with most interesting people (such as Che Guevara’s daughter and British lobbyist), additional footage and video of premier of the movie in Hollywood, where Michael showed his film to homeless people living on Skid Row. There was also a segment Michael did about Norway, that also has socialized medicine, has no death penalty, no life sentence (longest sentence is 21 year; in its time, Soviet Union was praising itself as the most humane system which had maximum prison sentence of 25 years), while at the same time having lowest murder rate in the developed world. Funnily enough, Norwegian prisons don’t have walls, policemen don’t carry guns, and their canine friends are.. poodles.

Moore also plays tape of Nixon’s phone conversation from 1971 where he admired creativity of original Kaiser HMO: “it’s for-profit: the sicker they become the less coverage they get”. He also makes the point that communism is not that bad. Most people in this country think communism is an ultimate evil (Boo-Hoo), but few people can distinguish communism as an idea from brutal regimes like Stalinism or Maoism. Without going into details, I’m just going to say that most people in this country shriek when they hear word “socialism” or “communism” in the same sentence with anything else, and it’s the direct result of propaganda. Until 1919 we had firemen making contracts with residents for the service, and if residents didn’t have enough money to pay the bill on time, firemen didn’t have to show up when their house was on fire, but of course the neighbouring houses would also often catch fire. So we socialized the fire department and police. We also began regulating public utilities, like power and water. Why shouldn’t we regulate essential public services like healthcare? I like my firemen and police being free. Why not have free healthcare – for everyone. Why should anyone have to die because they had a pre-condition and thus unable to even purchase insurance? With latest medical advances such as DNA testing, could insurance companies be able to deny you coverage because you were genetically predisposed to have cancer? After watching this movie I am terrified of becoming seriously sick.

One of the bonus featurettes on DVD talks about Hillary Clinton’s plan to provide everyone with insurance (mind you, this was before she began her presidential campaign), but the plan was flawed and was doomed for failure. The main reason it failed is because she invited insurance companies at the table. Why would insurance companies agree to take half the pie if they can take the whole pie?

This is completely different Michael Moore movie: he is not going for as many laughs as he did in “Fahrenheit 911″ and did not use those gitty interviewing tactics (a.k.a. “set up”) as in “Bowling for Columbine”. The movie hardly qualifies as documentary though – as usual, it’s just Mike’s own opinion without counter-arguments. It doesn’t mean, however, that the film is not making compelling arguments in favor of free healthcare for all citizens, the importance of preventive care, which is practically non-existant in U.S., and all of this stems from the conflict between capitalism and democracy: richest people’s interest don’t always match the interest of the poor(-er) people.

One of the best Moore’s “documentaries”, but not particularly funny – it was actually pretty sad.

Cast: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, John Graham, William Maher, Richard Nixon.

Won Best Documentary award from Chicago Film Critics Association Awards and Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards.

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Tags: Comedy · DVD · Documentary · Drama · Movies

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 admin // Feb 12, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I had to comment on this. In today’s news, Blue Cross, one of California’s biggest health insurers, sent letter to its doctors demanding that disclose all of the pre-existing conditions to Blue Cross, which they will use to cancel patient’s policies “in an effort to keep the costs down”. They say their job is to keep records up to date. One of the pre-existing conditions that doctors are supposed to rat out to the HMO is pre-existing pregnencies.

    According to ABC story, Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association said, “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality”. (Frankenstein?)

  • 2 admin // Feb 12, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I had to comment on this. In today’s news, Blue Cross, one of California’s biggest health insurers, sent letter to its doctors demanding that disclose all of the pre-existing conditions to Blue Cross, which they will use to cancel patient’s policies “in an effort to keep the costs down”. They say their job is to keep records up to date. One of the pre-existing conditions that doctors are supposed to rat out to the HMO is pre-existing pregnencies.

    According to ABC story, Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association said, “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality”. (Frankenstein?)

  • 3 admin // Feb 12, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I had to comment on this. In today’s news, Blue Cross, one of California’s biggest health insurers, sent letter to its doctors demanding that disclose all of the pre-existing conditions to Blue Cross, which they will use to cancel patient’s policies “in an effort to keep the costs down”. They say their job is to keep records up to date. One of the pre-existing conditions that doctors are supposed to rat out to the HMO is pre-existing pregnencies.

    According to ABC story, Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association said, “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality”. (Frankenstein?)

  • 4 Liz // Jan 24, 2008 at 3:09 am

    Reply  |  Quote


    As interesting as these exposés are, I can’t help but question some of the claims. I find it hard to believe that health insurance is THAT hard to come by, given that almost any retail job offers it if you stay for six months or a year. Sure, the insurance system is flawed, but it was developed because doctors desperately need to get paid. I don’t have any solutions, but I doubt Moore does either. Free health care would raise a whole slew of new problems.

  • 5 admin // Jan 24, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Reply  |  Quote


    The indisputable fact is that 45 million Americans don’t have insurance. Perhaps they are so stupid that they can’t even get a job in retail. Is that what you are implying, Liz?

    75% of those that have it are not insured at adequate levels.

    Furthermore, even if they are insured, the problem is that insurance companies are for-profit companies, and their duty before shareholders is to turn up profit.

    I don’t deny that socialized medicine has its own problems, and the key to the solution is how you place incentives for doctors to do a good job. I grew up on free healthcare system. My only complaint is that service level was pretty low, but only compared to private clinics. When I was a kid and I’d get sick, a doctor would come to my home to see me – free. When I had an ice-skating accident, the surgeon was working on me for hours – free. They didn’t ask me to pay. In USSR, with all its flaws, no matter what profession you chose, you’d be equally poor, but the result of that was that people who choose a profession were people who really liked it, and that’s good for morale and for work quality. They didn’t become doctors for the money. But surely, sometimes you had to know people to get some new rare experimental drug. But nobody was thrown out of the ambulance because they could not pay. The service level, again, in Soviet healthcare system was quite low. It’s pretty low now – in Scotland, for example – Moore didn’t visit that place.

    The fundamental problem with insurance companies – even if you insure everybody at full coverage – is that they are for-profit companies. I am not saying let’s do away with them. Someone may prefer private insurance and personal nurse in a private hospital – let them buy insurance. But I think that the industry must be a least regulated like public utilities are. One way to do it is to force them by law to provide coverage to everyone, regardless of “pre-conditions”. Anyone should be able to get help when they need it, just like firefoghters and police come to help – they are socialized, no? Can you complain about their service levels?

  • 6 Liz // Jan 26, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Reply  |  Quote


    “The indisputable fact is that 45 million Americans don’t have insurance. Perhaps they are so stupid that they can’t even get a job in retail. Is that what you are implying, Liz?”

    That’s very Michael Moore of you to put words in my mouth, but I’m actually implying the opposite: that a lot of these people are very capable of obtaining insurance. I don’t have insurance myself because I choose to freelance in a field that interests me, rather than have a time-sucking retail job – I bet there are others like me out there.

    I agree that insurance being for-profit causes problems, but that’s how everything else works in the American culture. The more money you have, and the better your position in life, the safer and healthier you are. It might not be fair, but it is reality, and trying to make a radical change in just one area (health insurance) isn’t going to work.

    Sure, I can complain about the police and firefighters. Oddly enough, they tend to perform better in more affluent areas – the same basic rules of capitalism apply, even though they are socialized.

    Sure, free clinics need to be funded better. But I don’t see the situation being as dire as some people present it, with 45 million americans crying out desperately for an insurance policy and not being able to get one, leading to their untimely deaths.

  • 7 admin // Jan 26, 2008 at 10:17 pm

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    I am no putting words in your mouth, I am trying to clarify. The way I understood your original comment is that all people need to do to get insurance is to work on two jobs or something.

    What Mike is saying in this movie:
    a) almost 1 in 5 Americans is not insured
    b) even those who are insured, even those who think they are fully covered are in danger of losing their livelihoods (and their lives) if policy doesn’t cover their conditions
    c) often when policy does cover them the insurance company may fight to put their for-profit interests ahead of patient’s needs.

    Like you said, people always complain about something. They say police is never around when you need them and that lawyers have no soul and they let criminals out of jails (until they in turn need a lawyer). But Mike says, and I agree, that nobody, like that little girl who died from fever in the movie, should be turned away because of their inability to pay. That’s why I am particularly disapointed by your comment that “it might not be fair, but it is reality”.

    Perhaps you are right that switching overnight to socialized medicine will not work. Not because it cannot be done (how did Canada or UK did it?), but because it may not be possible for political reasons – after all we have 4 lobbyists for every Congressman. I enjoy the benefits of free market capitalism as much as any other guy, but we should not put ideals of free market capitalism (if there is such as thing) about the value of human life. Insurance may not be hard to come by if you are employed, but what about homeless people? They get sick too. Are we just gonna dump them on Skid Row because treating them is not financially viable? Who is going to insure them? They even don’t have an address, and maybe no social security number.

    Remember the wife of that anti-Michael Moore website owner in the movie? Agreed, Michael Moore tends to make up stuff or show them one-sidedly. That’s why his movies cannot be called documentaries – because they are just his own opinions. It doesn’t mean that he’s always wrong though. Then again, it would help his credibility if he wasn’t just making movies about his own opinions and invite people who think otherwise. I just hope you never get sick.

  • 8 admin // Feb 12, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Reply  |  Quote


    I had to comment on this. In today’s news, Blue Cross, one of California’s biggest health insurers, sent letter to its doctors demanding that disclose all of the pre-existing conditions to Blue Cross, which they will use to cancel patient’s policies “in an effort to keep the costs down”. They say their job is to keep records up to date. One of the pre-existing conditions that doctors are supposed to rat out to the HMO is pre-existing pregnencies.

    According to ABC story, Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association said, “We’re outraged that they are asking doctors to violate the sacred trust of patients to rat them out for medical information that patients would expect their doctors to handle with the utmost secrecy and confidentiality”. (Frankenstein?)

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