'SiCKO': Michael Moore's Prescription for Change

Michael Moore screened his new film, "SiCKO," on Father's Day at a special New York event honoring Sept. 11 first responders. Moore spoke of their heroism and recognized their role in the film. "SiCKO" is about the broken U.S. healthcare system. Case in point: the 9/11 rescue workers.

Their stories of selfless courage, followed by years of creeping, chronic illnesses, from pulmonary fibrosis to cancer to post-traumatic stress, often exacerbated by poor or no health insurance, drive home Moore's point, that the medical/pharmaceutical industry is failing Americans--not only the 40-plus million Americans with no health insurance, but the 250 million Americans who do have health insurance.

Moore doesn't like health insurance companies: "They're the Halliburtons of the health industry. I mean, they really--they get away with murder. They charge whatever they want. There's no government control. And frankly, we will not really fix our system until we remove these private insurance companies. I mean, they literally have to be eliminated. They cannot be allowed to exist in this country."

Unable to get care in the U.S., Moore transports the ailing 9/11 heroes to boats just offshore from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Moore shows clips of congressmen and generals assuring the public that Guantanamo prisoners receive excellent healthcare. Bullhorn in hand, Moore appeals to the Navy for care for the 9/11 responders on board as well. Denied, they make their way to Havana Hospital, where a team of Cuba's world-renowned doctors administers much-needed treatment. Reggie Cervantes, coughing throughout her interview, is outraged to learn that an inhaler cartridge that she pays $120 for stateside sets her back only five cents in Cuba, and vows to "take back a suitcase full of them."

The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating Moore for possible violations of the trade embargo against Cuba (he has sent a copy of his film to Canada for safekeeping).
When Moore began his film, he put out a call for stories from his website and received more than 25,000 replies. In addition to neglected patients, Moore heard from hundreds of people within the industry blowing the whistle, like Dr. Linda Peeno. She testified before Congress: "I denied a man a necessary operation that would have saved his life and thus caused his death. No person and no group has held me accountable for this. Because, in fact, what I did was I saved a company a half a million dollars with this."

Moore knows that people who organize can fight back and win. "SiCKO" is more than a movie; it's a movement. The release of the film is being coordinated with an unprecedented, sophisticated, grass-roots action campaign. Oprah Winfrey will hold a town-hall meeting on healthcare. YouTube is calling for people to post videos of their healthcare horror stories, and the California Nurses Association is leading a campaign to get 1 million nurses in the U.S. to see the film. Healthcare-Now! is organizing leafleting and petitioning at all 3,000 theaters where "SiCKO" is debuting; Moveon.org and Physicians for a National Health Program are mobilizing. And Moore himself is heading to New Hampshire to challenge the Democratic presidential candidates.

"SiCKO" shows how Hillary Clinton tried to reform the healthcare system as first lady. "She was destroyed as a result of it. I mean, they put out I think well over $100 million to fight her. But to jump ahead here with Hillary, in last year's Congress, she was the second-largest recipient of health industry money. She may be No. 1 at this point, for all I know. It's very sad to see ... they're into her pocket, and she's into their pocket."

Moore continued: "By the time of the election, by the primaries, I'm sure all the Democrats are going to be using that word: 'universal' coverage. Their plans are going to take our tax dollars and put them into the pockets of these insurance companies. We need to cut out the middleman here. The government can run this program." This is called a single-payer system.

Taking on the multibillion-dollar healthcare industry is all in a day's work for Michael Moore. After several million people see "SiCKO," the time just might be right for a prescription for change.

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America.

(c) 2007 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate

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