Michael Moore's film Sicko has only been in general release for three days, though over the last month I have read at least 25 reviews and commentaries. All of them seem to have missed the point.
The film, by its own admission, is not about the 43 million Americans who have no health care coverage whatsoever; those who, if ill or wounded, will receive no health care at all, and so it should be. Who cares about these measly 43 million? Most of them do not have the price of admission to the film to begin with. Moving right along, then, the film concentrates on those Americans who do have some sort of private health care insurance coverage. Moore's main point is that the profit motive of private health insurance corporations is what causes the problem. The need, codified in law, in fact, to increase profits as much as possible for the benefit of the tiny number of shareholders of the corporations, trumps the concern for adequate health care for the policy holders. The health insurers are institutionally bound, not to care for the sick, but to turn a profit for their shareholders, and thus many who believed their health care costs were covered find that they are cut out from the most expensive healthcare system in the world in order to cut costs for the insurance company. But don't worry-- I have read at least 50 times this week that America is "the richest country in the world" so it should be no problem, right?
After all of these disturbing facts are made clear to the film's audience, we can only think, what a horrible shame that this profit motive in modern capitalist societies should effect something as sacrosanct as health care. The point all of these reviews and articles that I have read so far have missed, though, is this: Thank God it does not have anything to do with other industries! Sure, it is terrible that, of all things, health care should be undermined by a profit motive that only serves a few shareholders at the cost of the many, but at least we do not have to be concerned about this problem in other areas of our economy. I mean, what a shame it would be if, say, the production of medicines by pharmaceutical firms were also subject to this need to turn a profit for shareholders rather than provide medicine for those in need? That might mean that the needs of those in poor countries, for example in Africa, where malaria kills more people than any other disease, are ignored, and little or no money goes into research and development of drugs in this area.
Similarly, thank God that this profit motive does not touch the energy industry. As they are so carefully regulated and controlled by the government, particularly since that great American Ronald Reagan, it would never be possible that they put short-term shareholder gains above investment in their plants. Such a situation might lead, for example, to a massive blackout that would affect huge regions of the United States for days! And what could we do then? Blame Canada? Moreover, thank God that this profit motive does not interfere with safety concerns. I mean, think how horrible it might be if a nuclear plant put profits ahead of safety. Good thing these companies are not at all influenced by this profit urge that so badly influences the health insurance companies.
Luckily, the same can be said of just about any industry in the USA apart from health insurance. Food production? No worries, these companies do not need to make great profits to satisfy greedy shareholders, and thus the US food supply is in no danger of being compromised by rushed quality inspectors, who are pressured to let all manner of tainted meat or contaminated produce get through in the name of profit. Car manufacturers are similarly shielded from this problem, and would certainly never put higher profit margins from larger cars ahead of the need for a sensible environmental policy and greater fuel economy. The arms industry would of course never feel the need to push wars and unnecessary equipment in order to raise their profits for a few wealthy shareholders, many of whom are already in politics anyway. Due to this total lack of profit motive, we can rest assured that Vice President Cheney's motives for invading Iraq were purely above board. Surely his companies KBR and Halliburton, which are now gaining unheard-of profits in Iraq, had no hand in pushing for war in that country. And I think we can all thank our lucky stars that the oil industry does not share this curse of a constant addiction to high profits that Moore's film shows has spoiled the health insurance companies. After all, that might mean that Exxon would save money on oil tankers by refusing to use safer double-hull ships, and that of course could lead to some sort of oil spill disaster off the coast of Alaska. It might even lead them to pay off dishonest scientists to cast doubt on what is otherwise a very clear case of man-made climate change through the burning of oil and other fossil fuels, which would of course delay our whole reaction to the problem by decades, perhaps even until it were too late.
Yes, it seems to me that, once again, the critics have missed the point of Moore's film entirely. The famed documentary director, both lauded and maligned, is simply saying, thank God or whoever you believe in, that this horrible, damaging, codified and institutionalized profit motive only effects the health care industry!
Daniel Vallin is a writer who lives in Europe.