Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. They laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work digging out the truth. Please support this independent journalism today by donating to our critical Fall Campaign. We cannot do it without you. Thank you. -- Craig Brown, Co-founder

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

SiCKO, Part I: The Human Tragedy

Robert Weissman

When word got out that Michael Moore was working on a movie with the working title SiCKO, about the U.S. healthcare industry, the industry went bananas.

Memos started shooting around, warning insurance and drug company executives and representatives to keep looking over their shoulders, to make sure they avoided being ambushed by Moore and a camera crew. Indeed, they had something to fear, for they have a great deal of needless misery and suffering to answer for.

But it turns out that Moore didn't need them after all.

Instead, he's made a movie driven by heart-breaking story after heart-breaking story. SiCKO presents a devastating indictment of the U.S. healthcare system by letting victimized patients speak for themselves.

When Moore announced on his web page that he was doing a movie about outrages in the U.S. healthcare system and was looking for examples, he was flooded with 25,000 responses.

He profiles Dawnelle, whose 18-month-old daughter Michelle died because her health plan, Kaiser, insisted Michelle not be treated at the hospital to which an ambulance had taken her, but instead be transferred to a Kaiser hospital. Fifteen minutes after arriving at the next hospital, Michelle died, probably from a bacterial infection that could have been treated with antibiotics.

Julie, who works at a hospital, explains how her insurance plan refused to authorize a bone marrow transplant recommended for her cancer-riven husband. He died quickly.

Larry and Donna, a late-middle-age couple, find that co-payments and deductibles for treatment after Donna has cancer add up to such a burden that they have to sell their house and move into a small room in their adult daughter's house. The day they move into their daughter's house, her husband leaves to work as a contractor in Iraq.

Moore's camera captures the pain, chaos and forced indignity imposed upon every day people who do their best to deal with an impossible situation.

Moore's web page announcement also attracted responses from hundreds of employees in the health insurance industry, explaining how their jobs forced them to do things of which they were ashamed.

Lee, a former industry employee whose job was to find ways to deny or rescind coverage for healthcare, explains how hard insurers work to deny care, searching for any pretense. About denials of care and coverage, he says, "It is not unintentional. It is not a mistake. It is not somebody slipping through the cracks. Somebody made that crack, and swept you to it."

Becky, another industry employee, says through tears that she's a "bitch" on the phone with clients because she doesn't want to know anything about their families or personal situations -- that knowledge makes the inevitable denial of care too hard to stomach.

And Dr. Linda Peeno, a former medical reviewer for Humana, testifies before a Congressional committee in 1996 that her denial of needed treatment to a patient led to the patient's death. "I am here," she told the committee, "primarily today to make a public confession. In the spring of 1987 as a physician, 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."

With some exceptions, SiCKO's victims aren't people without insurance. As Moore narrates, the movie is instead about the travails of the 250 million people in the United States with insurance.

There are some in the movie without insurance, however. A hospital places a destitute and disoriented woman in a taxicab, which drives away and literally dumps her on the street, near a shelter.

Rich, who has no insurance, has an accident in which he saws off the tips of two fingers. He is told sewing the ring fingertip back on will cost $12,000. The middle finger will cost $60,000. "Being a hopeless romantic," Moore narrates, Rich chooses the ring finger.

The publicity for SiCKO says the movie sticks to Michael Moore's "tried-and-true one-man approach" and "promises to be every bit as indicting as Moore's previous films."

This is actually somewhat misleading. The approach is a little different. There's humor, but there aren't many gimmicks in SiCKO. There's no effort by Moore to confront industry executives. Moore himself has a much smaller role than in previous films.

It is also a bit deceptive -- as an understatement -- to say SiCKO is as indicting as Moore's previous films. No matter how big a fan you may have been of Moore's earlier movies, you'll find that SiCKO cuts deeper and is more powerful and profound. SiCKO is, by far, his best movie.

This is, simply, a masterful work. It is deeply respectful of and compassionate towards the victims. It seethes with outrage, but its fury is conveyed by all of the horrifying stories it presents. The narrative is, by and large, understated. It overflows with raw emotion, but manages to explain clearly the systemic imperatives that lead the richest nation in the history of the world to fail so miserably at delivering healthcare to all.

Could things be different in the United States?

Yes.

The second half of SiCKO looks at other countries' healthcare systems, and finds that national, single-payer insurance delivers far better care. More on this in my next column.

Sneak previews for SiCKO are being shown around the United States on June 23. The movie opens nationally on June 29. Be ready to be driven to tears and rage.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen. Weissman was formerly director of Essential Action, editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine that tracks corporate actions worldwide, and a public interest attorney at the Center for Study of Responsive Law. He was a leader in organizing the 2000 IMF and World Bank protests in D.C. and helped make HIV drugs available to the developing world.

 

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Schumer Endorses 'Inspiring Community Leader' India Walton as Buffalo's Next Mayor

The U.S. Senate majority leader's move comes as some key New York Democrats refuse to back the democratic socialist.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Who Will You Throw Overboard?' Manchin Targeted for Trying to Sink Democratic Agenda

West Virginians gathered at the senator's yacht to demand that he stop blocking the "popular and needed" Build Back Better package.

Jessica Corbett ·


'We Shouldn't Do It at All': Manchin Admits He's the Enemy of Democrats' Ambitions

The right-wing West Virginia Democrat and fossil fuel investor has previously confessed his intent to quash his own party's sweeping $3.5 trillion Build Back Better package.

Brett Wilkins ·


After Getting 'Stealth Bailout' During Pandemic, US Corporations Try to Kill Proposed Tax Hikes

"When it's time to finally put workers first, big businesses are spending millions to maintain their advantage and preserve the status quo," said Kyle Herrig of Accountable.US.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Disgraceful': Just 9 Republicans Join With Dems to Hold Steve Bannon in Criminal Contempt

The vote "reveals just how far the Republican Party has fallen" since Trump took control as GOP's de facto leader, said one pro-democracy advocate.

Jon Queally ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo